Lake markets itself as being very, very chill, and make no mistake, it is. However, focusing on that “chill” vibe may not have paid the dividends developer Gamious intended. Though protagonist Meredith can be funny and the small town beautiful and quirky enough to be interesting, gameplay frequently becomes repetitive with the only real difference between work days being what you hear on the single radio station your mail truck, Goose, receives.
If you’re looking for a slice of life that may skirt too close to your own lived experience, Lake may be for you. If you’re hoping for wacky hijinks or a mystery, you should look elsewhere.
It’s 1986, and you play Meredith Weiss, a single, femme d’un certain age who works as a program tester in a random Big City.
Meredith’s job and boss keep her offensively busy, to the point that the first call she receives from him details a party to which Meredith was invited but could not attend due to project deadlines. Don’t worry, that won’t be the last time you hear from him. Steve will pester Meredith to complete work on Addit while she takes two weeks to head back to her tiny home town of Providence Oaks. There, she steps into her father’s shoes, taking over the mail route Thomas Weiss has driven for decades while he and her mother go to Florida on vacation.
The game really is that you deliver the mail in Providence Oaks, meeting various interesting characters along the way, from a lumber jack to a teenaged mechanic, and reliving parts of Meredith’s past. You drive around the town, enjoying beautiful lake vistas, listening to the town’s single radio station, and potentially chatting with the locals. You have the option to develop friendships with the locals, and based on those friendships, to choose whether Meredith will return to Providence Oaks permanently or stay in her stressful job in the Big City. However, during the course of the two weeks you’re in Providence Oaks, despite a potential side mission involving whether to build apartments near the lake, the most taxing choice you’ll make will be how Meredith spends her evening after work after she finishes dealing with calls from her parents and Steve.
When I say that the game is mostly you driving around town in a mail truck, I’m not joking.
Meredith somehow secures a spot filling in for her father as a mail carrier, which I don’t really think is possible. Apparently the people of Providence Oaks just roll however they choose. After an extremely brief tutorial in which Frank demonstrates how you deliver mail and packages (the E button), he basically just turns you loose with the keys to a mail truck and a jaunty wave. Driving “The Goose” is odd. The controls seem oddly sensitive to over-correction, reminding me strongly of trying to ride a horse in Red Dead Redemption. However, if you find that driving is too taxing, the game does offer you the option to put the truck on autopilot so you can sit back and enjoy pixelated vistas.
There are a number of interesting characters, including the town’s resident crazy cat-lady, that allow Meredith to reminisce on not only how the town has changed but also how it has remained the same. If Lake asks a question, it is whether you can go home again, and Lake doesn’t really supply you an answer. You control the entirety of Meredith’s experience, so whether she stays or goes is completely up to you. You therefore must make the decision yourself.
The game establishes that Meredith has two weeks in Providence Oaks from the very first call with Steve, and it holds you to that timeline. Week one mostly focuses on delivering packages, but in week 2, the game gives you the option to interact more fully with the other characters who give you the chance to accomplish different tasks. There’s even a weirdly abbreviated baby-sitting side-mission. You’ll rapidly note that most characters remain fairly one-dimensional, staunchly remaining in their stereotypical lanes, and while you do have a decently large cast with which to interact, most of the packages you deliver will be to empty homes, giving the town a nearly abandoned feeling. Whereas in other moments, you can’t seem to get a moment of peace to yourself. Credit where it’s due, small towns do encompass that dichotomy, and Gamious captures it perfectly. You can refuse to socialize in the evenings on Meredith’s behalf without repercussion.
Speaking of repercussions, your driving appears to have minimal repercussions as well. While there is some traffic, the cars avoid your truck automatically even when you stop dead center in the two-lane road that serves as the town’s main access route to civilization. I will also note that if you shift to the map menu, the vehicles do not stop and will go around you. This can be a bit off-putting if you happen to return to gameplay while a semi-truck swerves past the Goose.
In terms of music and animation, Lake won’t wow you. While I understand that the music has to be sourced independently, it’s almost entirely country-pop. That genre fits the game’s atmosphere nicely, but I am not a fan. I spent most of my time in Providence Oaks with the radio switched off. The game takes place in 1986, so your music options are limited. On my PC, the graphics tended to flicker strangely, and while I realize that my computer is aging, my system should have had very little issue with the games graphical requirements. If that kind of flickering and flashing might bother you, be aware that it is a possibility.
That’s really all there is to it. Lake is a short title, and when they say you cannot play “Lake” wrong, they mean it. There are very few consequences to your choices, and none of them have negative outcomes. I have to admit, I kept expecting a murder mystery to manifest or perhaps some romantic triangle to evolve, but none that happened. Lake does what it says on the tin, no more and no less. I recommend treating Lake the way Meredith treats her tv shows—play in small chunks to keep the game from becoming repetitive and let the vibes wash over you while you decide if Meredith and perhaps yourself can go home again.
Lake is a great game if you have only brief moments to sit down in front of your computer and want an experience that will relax you. If you’re looking for something more exciting or involved, Lake will frustrate you with its slow-pace and low-stakes gameplay. If you want cozy, Lake will give you that in spades, but that is all it will give you.
While I’m glad I got the chance to experience Providence Oaks, I doubt I’ll head back anytime soon. Still, for $20 on Steam, Lake is a solid title for relaxation. I’ve certainly spent more on less rewarding games.
Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard
- The game really cleaves to its setting. The amount of thought that goes into Meredith’s vintage wardrobe is impressive and horrifying for the epic 80’s block prints.
- For folks who do not remember life before Netflix, yes, you did rent videos from a physical store. Remember Captain Marvel? Blockbusters did exist, though obviously nothing in Lake is branded.
- You do not have to endure a baby-sitting mini-game. You accept the mission, show up, and offer the kids s’mores before everything fades to black.
- Also for the younger crowd, there was no GPS in 1986, so Meredith uses a paper map. She also listens to messages on an answering machine that is attached to a real, corded phone.
- Miss Jenkins measures time in cat iterations. It’s kind of hilarious to discuss 22 years in terms of “two Genevieves ago.”
- Meredith will offer you tidbits of her life in the form of flavor text while you drive, and at one point, she observes that she could see herself enjoying delivering mail. I may or may not have responded that she was alone in that.