Back when I was youngster, I read a book called Room 13. It was essentially a vampire book aimed at children, and it induced the right amount of horror for the target age without seeming overly childish. It’s a book that stuck with me, even if I never reread it as an adult just because of the impression it left.

Varney Lake is essentially the Room 13 of videogames, and I’ll likely also remember it for many years to come.

Many thanks to Chorus Games for the review code.

Jimmy, Doug, and Christine are old friends that spend each summer together at Varney Lake. Christine is the oldest and the cousin of the youngest member of the group, Doug. Jimmy is also in love with her, but he’s too scared to say anything. All three are members of the ‘Only Child Club’, for reasons that should be obvious, and their main objective during the  summer is to earn enough money to buy the abandoned drive-in theatre that they adore. 

It’s a very typical setting for a story such as this, but you get a real sense of each character as the story progresses. Aside from Christine, who is the level-headed love interest, we have Doug who is a bit of a nerd and has an allergy to the sun that requires the use of a special cream, and finally Jimmy, who is a little bit awkward and obsessive. Jimmy is the initial primary character, but you will switch between different characters each chapter (more on that later).

Early on, the characters run into a bit of a predicament. Jimmy scammed some money out of the local bully, Brandon (seriously, why would you even try this?), and now he’s out for revenge. Obviously, their solution upon seeing his approach is to leg it as far as possible, which results in them stumbling across a seemingly abandoned barn.

Spoiler alert: it isn’t abandoned. There’s a creepy old man in there who appears to be suffering from the sun. Doug assumes that he has the same sun allergy, but the others aren’t too sure. Regardless, they help him out by blocking out the sun and giving him enough energy to take a bite of venison to regain his strength.

Fast forward 27 years and Jimmy is nowhere near the same as the high-spirited boy from before. He’s recounting his tale to an author in order to sell his story, and it doesn’t seem like it has a particularly happy ending.

And so the game begins, switching characters frequently to show off different perspectives and give you a full insight as to what is going on. There are many layers to the story, some of which you may not necessarily appreciate if you haven’t played the prior game. It’s not a necessity to enjoy this tale by any means, but it certainly adds some extra context to some of the present-day characters you encounter.

Revealing more of the story would spoil the experience due to its primary focus on the superbly written narrative, but it’s a tale that had me hooked until the slightly abrupt end. Whilst it isn’t necessarily a bad ending, it did leave certain questions unanswered – but perhaps those are only uncovered to those who follow a different path…


Whilst the game is essentially a visual novel, there’s actually a little bit more to it than simply reading through the story. Much like those ‘choose your own adventure’ novels that were popular back in the 90s, Varney Lake has you making several choices as the game plays out. Do you go fishing, or stay watching clouds? Do you pick truth or dare? Choices are surprisingly frequent and some hint at the aforementioned story paths that you can potentially miss out on and factors that may lead you towards a different ending.

In addition to story choices, the game also has a handful of minigames for you to play that helps pass the time. As children spending their summer together outside, they’re simple games that they create for their own entertainment and fit into the narrative quite well. Some of them, like the solitaire variant that I couldn’t even figure out how to play, aren’t all that great, but others are far more intuitive and consequently more enjoyable too. It’s a nice way to give you a break from reading, regardless of whether you end up abandoning the minigames before finishing them.

Unfortunately though, the game is rather short, taking me just over an hour to beat (although this may vary slightly depending on both your reading speed and how long you spend with the minigames). Whilst the alternate choices do encourage repeated playthroughs, I don’t think they’re enough to warrant jumping straight back in after you finish with the game as the vast majority of the game will be the same story. It is definitely something to reread in the future with some different choices, but will that be enough to sell you with the €9.99 price tag? Regardless though, the story is excellent and worth experiencing even if it’s one you end up putting on your wishlist as you wait for a sale further down the line.


Visual novels can run the risk of dragging on for way too long as you click through every line of text, yet the pacing of Varney Lake is spot on. What’s more, the writing is some of the best I’ve ever read from the genre and it left me compelled right until the very end. It’s a touching tale of friendship, filled with suspense and a little bit of sadness too. If you’re a fan of pulpy fiction, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.