Kick back, take stock and enjoy the beautiful views in Lake. The Finger Guns Review.
There’s something to be said about a video game that is designed to ease your mind. Whilst we can point to games which encourage a calm sensibility in order to navigate (Firewatch, Edith FInch, Journey…), there’s few that are so respectful of your time and know exactly how to relax you as you navigate its story. Lake is one such game, seemingly born of an idea that video games can peacefully guide you to a goal with little in the way to trip you up. It’s a pure, wholesome, serene journey, one that I’m very grateful exists in a world that is anything but. There’s no hurry, just kick back. Take your time. Lake will guide you when you’re ready.
Placing you in the calm walking shoes of Meredith Weiss way back in 1986, Lake takes place in Providence Oaks, Oregon, perhaps the world’s most perfect little town built and thriving around an enormous lake bang in the centre, and the childhood home of our protagonist. Returning for two weeks from her big city corporate job as a computer programmer to maintain her parents house and stand-in for her Dad’s postal job while they’re away in Florida taking a well deserved break. The locals recognise her as she does her rounds, reminiscing with old friends and telling those who never left P.O. of her adventures a world away from their idyllic lives, in a town too afraid of change to rent out video tapes.
Meredith returns to P.O. with a heart full of wanting. A break from her corporate life allows her to revel in the peace of her childhood home, learning along the way she left a bigger impression than she may have suspected. Some are happy to see her, others are not so much. Childhood friend Kay has grown up and put her dreams of becoming a songwriter on hold to get married to the high school quarterback and have a child, none of which Meredith was aware of. It would appear when she left P.O. in the rear view, she left everyone else there too.
And you meet a fair amount of people on your postal rounds. One of the many joys of Lake is discovering the townsfolk for yourself so I won’t go into huge detail here, but there are definite highlights. There’s Angie, a fellow big city survivor looking for a fresh start, hoping to entice the townsfolk to visit her aforementioned video rental store (a place well worth visiting, there’s a ton of terrific 80’s movies easter eggs to be found here). Robert Harris, the local lumberjack fighting with the Town Hall to stop construction of apartments in the town’s forest. Maureen, the owner of the local diner who has some fond memories of Meredith’s childhood and Jack, the local farmer / radio DJ. They’re all written with massive hearts and all play a major role in Meredith’s story.
And that’s really the main pull of Lake. Bar the beautiful surroundings which make the gameplay loop of delivering post never feel monotonous, it’s narrative that holds it together. The aforementioned walking simulators above are built on strong stories to keep you engaged when there’s very little to the actual gameplay so you’ll feel right at home if you’ve lived inside those games unravelling their secrets. Lake is far from a walking sim, I’d hasten to even call it a driving sim. It’s purely narrative-driven, with dialogue choices offered in every single conversation Meredith engages in. She’s far from a blank slate, you won’t be choosing every word she says, but you have the option to dictate her relationships with the P.O. townsfolk, offering help when needed (and keep an eye on these as this is where the majority of the game’s Achievements lie), lend a supporting ear to a friend or dismiss them utterly.
The latter always seemed way out of character for who I imagined Meredith to be, so being there for people and spending time with them outside of work was always the beneficial choice. There’s little to do once you’ve finished work rather than work your way through dialogue heavy scenes, but it’s nice to see Meredith interact with people away from her postal rounds.
And the two weeks you spend in Providence Oaks fly by. Your daily postal round (bar Sundays) will end in mere minutes once you know your way around the town. I never found myself to ever rush my deliveries either. The reflective long drives – where you automatically stay at the speed limit – are one of the game’s most frequently wonderful moments, allowing Meredith to dig deeper into herself, questioning if she really wants to return to her corporate life and instead live out her days back in her hometown.
There’s nothing difficult about Lake, it’s certainly the easiest game you’ll finish this year but, that’s kind of the point. I beat the game in around four hours across three playthroughs to see all the endings and with each one I felt satisfied with the conclusion. I didn’t feel like I let her or anyone else down and this allowed me to feel just as at peace with my choices as Meredith did. Yes, the gameplay loop is no more involved than a TellTale game in some respects, though the postal aspect is merely a tool to grow relationships and relive memories Meredith locked away when she left the first time around. A sequence where you’re doing a favour for Angie felt a little longer than perhaps it needed to be, but being able to share a part of the game with her character made it worthwhile. What an absolute delight her part in Meredith’s story is.
It’s the technical aspects of Lake that, unfortunately, hold it back from pure greatness. Whilst I’ve been able to beat the game several times without too much bother on my cranky old Xbox One S, it doesn’t feel like it’s been built for the last generation. The world of Providence Oaks is beautifully crafted, with the sun tearing through the endless trees over the lake looking wondrous regardless of what system you play it on, but it never feels like the game hasn’t quite finished cooking before it was let out of the oven. There were moments where certain moments where the games controls wouldn’t load in to control your postal vans radio, and as such I couldn’t turn if off. I heard a song called Witchcraft on one morning’s route around eight times. I don’t like that song anymore.
The game’s Twitter account is testament that they’re fully aware of the issues. One hopes a few patches will allow Lake to thoroughly shine like it should.
It’s difficult to argue that Lake absolutely achieves what it sets out to accomplish. As a grown-ass man suffering with bouts of extreme anxiety I found myself falling into Lake to relax, to simply post some letters and forget the world outside exists for a moment and it worked for me. I have no issues in recommending a game like Lake to anyone who looks to video games as a way to cope mentally, as it’s a story engaging enough to allow you to take a second and breathe in.
There’s no massive plot-twists or deep dark Wicker Man-esque secret to uncover in Lake, it’s pure serenity. A place everyone is welcome and where you can take all the time you need to find out exactly who you want to be.
Lake is a narrative-driven postal simulator quite unlike any other. With a rich story, wonderful characters a beautiful town to explore, if you’re looking for something to ease your mind, you can’t go wrong.
Publisher: Whitethorn Digital
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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