- 2021 video game
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Meredith is driving her truck around the lake. Get used to the view, because you'll be seeing it a lot.Credit: Gamious. Fair use.Source: own screenshotSource data licensing:
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Please sign in or register to add your own review.A trip back home that doesn't quite deliver
The protagonist holds a stressful job in the big city. Circumstances lead them to an extended stay in their old hometown. They rekindle old relationships, form new ones, and ultimately have to make a big decision.
It’s a trope all too familiar from film and television, but less common in video games. Lake, released by Dutch indie studio Gamious in 2021, embraces the premise wholeheartedly.
The year is 1986. You play as Meredith, a 44-year-old programmer who spends her holiday in her old hometown of Providence Oaks, Oregon. It’s not much of a vacation, though! For two weeks, you fill in for your dad at the local post office, delivering letters and packages to members of the small lakeside community. Meanwhile, your parents are on an actual vacation in Florida.
The core mechanic of the game is to drive the Post Office truck, put letters in mailboxes, and deliver packages to homes and businesses. Occasionally, this offers opportunities for interaction with the town’s residents. These interactions are used to advance a slice-of-life narrative.
There’s no larger plot to uncover here, but you can get involved in small town drama. A lumberjack is protesting plans for real estate development; a young couple is on the run from the law; a small video rental store is fighting for its survival. Many of the characters are one-note stereotypes, but it’s still fun to talk to them.
These interaction opportunities are only delivered in small morsels. You spend a lot of your time just driving around and delivering mail without talking to anyone. (Occasionally, Meredith will issue a bit of monologue when putting a letter into a mailbox, like “Here’s your mail”.)
The local radio station helps break the monotony, until you notice that the same handful of songs keep repeating, at which point you’ll want to turn the radio off to keep your sanity.
Meredith is driving her truck around the lake. Get used to the view, because you’ll be seeing it a lot. (Credit: Gamious. Fair use.)
When outside the truck, Meredith can walk slowly or … walk slowly. In theory, you can accelerate her walking speed, but the increase is almost imperceptible.
Lake, then, is a game best played when you want to let your mind wander. The town is pretty to look at, and there are some nice details, like a fox or a deer crossing the road, or changes in the weather.
Overall, however, the game’s reach exceeds its grasp. There’s a reason most “walking simulators” stick to just that: walking. The driving mechanic is awkward and immersion-breaking—you can drive your truck into anything or anyone without as much as a honk or a frown.
On my system, which plays far more demanding games without issues, the game’s frame rate dropped from time to time, and the audio sometimes fell out of sync. There were also occasional visual glitches: cars floating in the air, people disappearing, lights flashing or flickering. Close-ups on characters are straight from the uncanny valley, with dead stares and robotic lip movement.
The game has three different endings; to its credit, you can pursue a male or female love interest. It doesn’t really broach the issue of small town homophobia in a meaningful way, and I was disappointed in the limited choices it ultimately offered for Meredith’s future.
All in all, I cannot recommend Lake: the mail delivery mechanic is too tedious, the technical problems are too numerous, and the story is too underdeveloped. Indie games like Firewatch and have demonstrated that it’s possible to deliver technically excellent narrative experiences with a small team—Lake never reaches that high bar. That said, many folks have found enjoyment in the game, and if you’re really looking for that small town vibe, you may want to check it out.