Lake (2021)

I lived in a small lake based mountain community for around 10 years, and while it wasn’t quite as small as the city of Providence Oaks in Lake is, it felt like I was back home. Lake takes place in a small lakeside town in 1980’s Oregon, and is inhabited by a collective cast of characters who range from the sweet and kind, to the nosey and rude.

Lake’s story is something that feels like it was pulled right out of an early 90’s movie about a few years before. A woman named Merideth Wiess is a computer programmer for a new program called Addit ‘87 and needs to take a break and heads off for a two week vacation to her old hometown and takes up the mail delivery truck position her dad has while she’s there.

It’s honestly a great premise and it being an indie GamePass game, I had a feeling I knew where the story was going to go, and I enjoyed it most of the way through. Lake’s voice acting is incredible, each character feels like they’ve lived in the town their whole life and are now just trying to adjust to an outsider. When Meredith’s old bestie Kay is introduced you feel the tension of their rocky past bubble to the surface right away. Even after a few interactions, there are moments where the uneasiness shows up again.

The gameplay itself is fairly basic. Everyday Merideth starts out in front of the Post Office and hops into her mail truck to deliver letters and packages to select people around the lake. A map with icons is populated to the location with either a letter or package symbol. And a notebook can be pulled up to give the exact address for each letter and package that must be delivered that day.

Delivering the mail at first is quite relaxing and meeting up with the local mechanic unlocks the radio, which plays the local radio station. Sadly the radio plays the same handful of songs, and the game does end up being a much longer game than necessary. I heard the same songs over and over and over and got quite tired of them near the end of the game. Luckily the game lasts around 5 hours, so that’s not too bad but it’s definitely noticeable.

I loved Lake till around the first week in the game ended. But the driving of the truck just felt too slow and the walking mechanics and delivering mail while enjoyable and relaxing was just a tad too slow. Once you get into the groove of things, you just want to head to the next location and talk to the new friends and acquaintances. The story is the real draw and the gameplay becomes an actual chore and job to do at a certain point.

That’s also not to mention the technical issues I encountered during the game. Every voiced dialogue section had the last half second of audio cut and the next sentence would instantly start, making everyone’s dialogue run together. Along with a few cutscenes where characters would pop out of existence. It’s not as bad as many other games I had, and nothing affected the actual gameplay, but it was jarring to encounter.

I feel like I’m getting burnt out on indie games about a small town life and a yearning for a simpler time, all with the same very basic polygonal and pastel colored artstyle. It seems to be such a major section of gaming lately and while I really did enjoy Lake for the time I spent with it, I really didn’t find it any different than the handful of other games with what feels like the exact same premise with a different gameplay style bolted on. Gamepass is the perfect place for these types of games, and I am glad they exist, but it also is now harder than ever to find the real solid ones, when it seems like everyone is doing the same thing.

If you want to experience a game about a character escaping life in the big city and going back to an idyllic childhood small mountain town, and finding out a slower pace of life is just the right speed for her… well Lake is exactly that. Several days could have been cut out, and delivering letters and packages to a smaller selection of people per day would have helped the pace, Lake still took me back to when I lived in that small lakeside town, and how life can be so much more enjoyable when you focus on the people, even if you don’t get along with every single one of them.