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Game review 06 September 2021, 15:00

author: Giancarlo Saldana

Giancarlo Saldana has been covering video games and tech for over a decade for publications like 1UP, GamesRadar, TechRadar, MacLife, Blast Magazine, and more. Twitter: @giansaldana

Lake Review: Stillness in the Ordinary

Sometimes a break from your current reality is what you need to clear your mind and realize what’s important in life. Are you drawn to money, career, or are your friends and connecting with special people what you really yearn for?

The review is based on the PC version. It's also relevant to XSX, XONE version(s).

Meredith Weiss, the protagonist of Lake, goes through these questions as she takes a break from her big tech job in 1986 and covers for her father as a postal worker back at her hometown of Providence Oaks. This fictional Oregon town has her delivering mail to people she once knew, reconnecting with old friends, making new acquaintances, and deciding where her life will lead. It’s not just a game about delivering mail – it’s a game about dealing with the decisions life can bring.

PROS:
  1. Ordinary, but captivating story;
  2. Colorful cast of characters and personalities;
  3. Vibrant visuals and lighting effects.
CONS:
  1. Cutscene fade-outs ruin the flow of the game;
  2. Music on the radio gets repetitive;
  3. You don’t actually see how certain activities play out.

Working on vacation

Each day during Meredith’s two-week stay at her sleepy town requires her to do actual work by driving around town delivering mail to those on her route. Sometimes you will need to approach a mailbox to drop off letters, other times you will need to go to the back of your truck, pick the right package, and walk it to someone’s front steps to drop it off.

Delivering mail isn’t the most glamorous part of the game, but it does serve to move the story along by giving your days a sense of purpose. The first few days even have you delivering mail to people from Meredith’s past allowing her to reconnect with them. Here is where you can choose your conversation choices, allowing you to be polite, blunt, or just plain snarky.

As you get to meet more of the townspeople, Meredith will also be able to do favors for them after she finishes delivering mail. Some will even ask her to deliver certain things during her routes, changing up the flow of the day – even if it’s only by a little. Some of these favors are entirely optional, but they do open up future conversation options and potential romantic interests.

There is a plot here, of course, but it’s nothing that will blow you away as it reflects the everydayness of Providence Oaks and of Meredith’s life. The flow of the game starts off slow as you realize what the town has in store, and you will eventually realize there isn’t anything particularly amazing about your surroundings. This is a slice-of-life game filled with mundane things that eventually serve a purpose.

Visually, the game offers a vibrant palette of colors despite how average the town looks overall. Small details like the movie titles in the town’s video store give life to your surroundings. The music you hear on the radio ranges from mellow to folk-inspired tunes, but it gets repetitive as you will hear the same song play day after day. Even the game pokes fun at itself when Meredith tells the DJ he needs to get more music.

Relaxing vibes

Driving around your mail truck is pretty basic but provides you a quick way to get from point a to point b. You can’t knock things down, crash into buildings, or destroy anything, so your drives feel more stifled than adventurous and it becomes apparent that you are playing a game that isn’t as much about action as it is about taking a break from reality – Meredith’s reality and yours, too.

Driving and walking feel a bit sluggish, and this is perhaps on purpose to further resonate with the relaxing, slow pace of the game. Even “running” is barely noticeable, making driving your main means of getting around town. This wouldn’t be a problem except each time you enter or leave your truck, the game quickly fades-out instead of actually showing Meredith getting in and out of it. This causes a break in the relaxation and makes you wonder why it’s there in the first place.

Now, it’s not that delivering mail isn’t fun – it’s great during the first few days into her job as it allows her to meet some interesting people. But after that magic of meeting new characters is gone, you realize becomes just like real life: you just want to be done with work so you can have fun afterwards. Thankfully, you can quick travel to various locations around town to speed things up.

Everyday choices

Sadly, whenever Meredith embarks on some of these activities with or favors for her neighbors, the game doesn’t really show them to you sometimes. Cutscenes do occur here and there, but you don’t see Meredith caring for her elderly neighbor’s cats or babysitting her childhood bestie’s kids. All you see is her arriving to her destination and then it fades to black. You think something special will happen, but when it does, it’s not fully shown, so you don’t get to savor it.

By the end of the two weeks, you do start to realize how much you’ve connected with certain characters and how much you will miss them. Each one has their own charm and unique personality; from the crazy cat lady to the motherly diner waitress to the farmer who also doubles as the town’s DJ. Your choices can help shape their own life and ambitions, and while these don’t impact the story as much as you would hope, they do make you feel good inside.

There is no question Lake is rather ordinary, but it’s precisely that ordinariness that lets it shine despite its flaws. Delivering mail and driving around the same familiar streets can easily get monotonous, and a few design choices ruin some of the relaxation that comes from the job, but it makes up for it in the unique interactions between Meredith and other characters. Their outcomes may not be groundbreaking, but it serves to tell a story about the normalcy of life and the choices we make to find happiness in what we are doing.

Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com

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