Release Date: September 1, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Whitethorn Digital
You know, I played through this whole game, and there was barely any mention of the giant lake in the middle of the town. I kept wondering why the developers decided on the name Lake. However, after completing this journey with protagonist Meredith Weiss, I theorized the reasoning behind their decision. Her hometown of Providence Oaks has had so many changes, that things got unpredictable. Yet, the lake she drives by each day remains the same–a source of stability in a time where things aren’t as they seem.
Lake brings the audience to the year 1986 and the small, sleepy town of Providence Oaks, Oregon. Meredith, who lives a busy life at a software company in an unnamed city, takes a two-week break to visit her hometown and temporarily takes over her dad’s job as the postman. With a bit of training, you’re ready to commit to the duty of delivering mail to the residents each day for two weeks straight. It’s been 22 years since you’ve visited your hometown, so it’s time to see what’s changed and how you fit into this life, if at all.
The town itself is pretty to look at, but nothing worth basking in. There’s enough detail to create a comfortable setting, using lush foliage and the traditional rural house designs. The environment evokes a feeling of warmth and comfort. However, the graphical display lacks depth. There are plenty of instances with flickering shadows and shoddy textures during gameplay. Despite the lake being a grand sight, the actual water isn’t anything to marvel at. Even some of the characters facial expressions are roughly animated, showing a substantial disparity between their reactions and tone. Nevertheless, the artistic presentation paints Providence Oaks in a picturesque light.
Lake provides quite a leisurely experience. You’ll be driving around the entire town each day, putting mail in mailboxes and dropping packages off on people’s doorsteps. With certain deliveries, you’ll come upon opportunities to meet the residents and get to know them, if you so choose. The residents each have their own characteristics and personalities, making these interactions a significant part of the experience.
The performances here are effective, as they sound like genuine residents of a small town. The overall sound design is charming and quaint. The music consists of acoustic backdrops and a radio station with country and pop tunes. It was disappointing to hear such a limited variety as the same few songs loop over the radio. Regardless, it provides a sweet atmosphere as you’re driving to your destinations.
Over time, these interactions lead to something bigger for Meredith and her life. The story offers numerous branching paths for your future within a short period of time. I found some stories more interesting than others, but they’ll vary by individual. If I had one critique, the depth of interaction is limited, and I would have liked to see more nuance. If it’s not a story segment or cutscene, you’ll get little to no dialogue options between you and the other characters, so there’s no reason to visit anyone if you don’t have mail for them.
Despite the ample story opportunities to delve into the characters and their drama, you’re not forced to accept requests or listen. You actually have the option to decline people and leave them alone, meaning you have the power to make your story as eventful or uneventful as possible. This is a brilliant idea for a game that brings an atmosphere of calmness and simplicity, as each person can shape their own run however they like.
There’s a story to be told for Meredith, and much of its complexity relies on your decisions. Whether it be romance, solitude, or friendship, the multitude of choices are there. Maybe you want to watch a movie with the town mechanic or cat-sit for the elderly cat lady across town. Choices such as these affect your relationships and future events. Based on your experiences, your ending results may differ.
While the pacing can be slow, it’s not necessarily a bad thing…for the most part. Lake seems to be going for a slice-of-life look at Meredith’s time back home. Though the narrative takes place over 14 days, a lot happens in the timeframe for a fruitful endeavor. In a way, it offers a rare opportunity to have some downtime in the world of gaming. Rather than finding secrets or loot, your reward is the conversations you have with the town community.
However, between the story portions is the extensive fodder of driving around town and delivering mail. The driving controls are straightforward. Oddly enough, the town seems to believe you’re the exception to the law. It’s as if you’re having a relaxed, small-town version of Grand Theft Auto as you can drive recklessly and disregard any road rules. You’re welcome to swerve into a cop car, and they don’t flinch whatsoever. Driving to numerous houses is peaceful at first but becomes tiresome over time as it becomes a chore to get to the story.
Though driving isn’t a huge problem, walking irked me in a way I never thought I’d be irked. Of course, you don’t have to walk much at all, outside of going to mailboxes and doorsteps. Yet, Meredith’s slow snail-like pace takes me out of my zen mindset and into a state of impatience. While there is a “walk faster” mechanic, it’s probably one of the most meaningless additions of a speed increase I’ve ever seen, as it dials her walking speed from 1x to 1.05x. Luckily, there won’t be too much walking, but, unfortunately, deliveries take that much longer due to this simple issue.
Regardless of that issue, the game encapsulates the idea of living in the moment. You don’t need to consider the consequences or think too hard about your actions. Instead, I would suggest going with the flow and making decisions based on how you’re feeling. See the town for what it has to offer. And whatever the fallout is for your actions, let the impact sink in.
Does Lake push the boundaries and redefine the genre of a narrative adventure? I wouldn’t say so, but I would contend that it’s a welcome addition. The game is a great exploration of the impact one can have on others’ lives with simple interactions in a peaceful manner. There are quality-of-life issues, and the impact may not be as great as you would hope. In fact, there’s nothing grandiose about the game, but that works in its favor–it’s a calming presence in a world of chaos.
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