Publisher: Whitethorn Games
Release Date: 01/09/21
Platform(s): Xbox Series X (also available on Xbox Series S, Xbox One, and PC)
Time Played: 5 Hours
If you’re someone that lives in a large town or city, have you ever thought of leaving all of that hustle and bustle behind, even just briefly, to live the small-town life…to deliver mail? Yes, you read that right. Now, that might not seem particularly exciting, especially as the premise behind a video game, but Lake manages to provide a surprisingly wholesome adventure out of that unorthodox idea.
Part of what makes indie games such charming and worthwhile pieces of media are not only their regular strive for the experimental, but also their ability to turn otherwise mundane ideas in the AAA space, into memorable experiences in a more bespoke package. Developer Gamious utilises simple gameplay imbedded with routine as the backdrop for an uplifting narrative about discovering one’s self and the important things in life. However, a handful of issues often get in the way and detract from the overall experience. Let’s get into it!
The game introduces you to Meredith Weiss, a forty-something living a busy life in the big city. However, she decides to take a two-week break from her corporate career to return to her small hometown. This isn’t just some regular vacation, instead, Meredith takes over her father’s mail carrier position whilst her parents are away. What follows is a short, 5-hour experience where you will be delivering mail, reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and getting to know the community as a whole.
Lake takes place over the course of that two-week break of Meredith’s. Most days, you’ll be left to explore the town of Providence Oaks, Oregon, whilst delivering mail to various properties in the area. There really isn’t much to its gameplay, however, that’s really the whole point of the journey. As you drive around, posting letters and dropping off parcels, you’ll fall into a sense of rhythm and routine. It’s really quite relaxing, even if it ends up being very simple.
Each working day, you’ll be given a list of deliveries you need to make. How you go about them is up to you. Despite having no set path, like me, you will more than likely figure out and stick with a route you’ll prefer, as the same destinations will feature regularly. In terms of getting around, driving the mail van will be the primary choice. Controls are fairly rudimentary, but they serve the purpose well enough. What’s appreciated is a handful of fast-travel points spread across the map. These unlock as you explore and help to prevent gameplay from being made up of too much driving. One thing that I didn’t like that much is Meredith’s sluggish walking speed. She moves at snail-like pace, even in her ‘fast-walking’ mode.
Aside from delivering mail, you’ll have the chance to speak with different characters in the community. There are some dialogue options and side tasks for you to take part in. Dialogue choices can range from inconsequential bits of added narrative, to options that can impact the ending. Yes, there are multiple endings for you to get that define Meredith’s life after her short break.
While Lake’s gameplay is rooted in routine and simplicity, the narrative feeds into those notions as well, but with a strong dose of self-reflection and charm. Following Meredith’s path to reconnect with her childhood community is utterly captivating. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the town and meeting all the colourful individuals, including Providence Oaks’ own ‘crazy cat lady.’ Going about your day-to-day activities, you do feel that sense of community with the town’s inhabitants.
While the story is nothing revolutionary, it’s a heartwarming tale with a relatable message at its core, all told in a meaningful way. It was enjoyable to guide Meredith towards one of the many endings. There is even the chance for romance options if you lean towards certain choices. There’s the geeky Angie, who tries to run her video store, or the gruff and awkward Robert. I honestly wasn’t expecting there to be much choice-based gameplay, so it was a welcome feature that adds a nice amount of depth to the adventure.
Unfortunately, Lake ends up faltering in ways when it comes to its visuals and performance. On the surface, the stylised graphics look very charming and appealing for the type of game. Textures are fairly detailed, while environments are clearly beautiful. However, myriad technical problems get in the way. There were a number of times I would experience frame rate drops, while background assets and textures would prominently glitch out and flicker, distracting from the overall presentation.
A consistent issue I had was that the game would freeze for a few seconds after leaving a conversation. This would happen without fail and gets quite annoying. The saving grace is that this is something that can be fixed in a patch, hopefully. What I did love was the music. The ambient noise while walking around, as well as the small handful of songs that the local radio station plays. Hearing them on repeat numerous times ended up making them quite catchy by the end.
After coaxing Meredith towards the ending I wanted for her, I couldn’t help but feel satisfied. Even though the basic gameplay did grow a tad tiresome towards the last few days, it was the story that ultimately made it worthwhile.
For a game all about delivering mail, Lake ends up telling a deeply, endearing narrative that is steeped in nostalgia and positive meaning. It might seem like an odd adventure, but trust me, this a game worth your time.