Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night…
The fruits of Meredith Weiss’ labor are juuuuuust about ripe for the picking. A seasoned computer programmer, she’s spent a good chunk of her life writing lines of code for Addit ’87, a revolutionary new time-management program that will be sure to change lives in 1986. What a fascinating modern world she lives in!
Just as Addit ’87 is about to launch, Meredith’s parents call and let her know they’re headed to Florida for two weeks. Apparently in need of someone to both housesit and keep dad’s seat warm at the post office, Meredith agrees to trek home to Providence Oaks, Oregon for a fortnight and deliver mail to her former neighbors. The timing may be a little odd considering how critical Meredith has been to Addit ’87’s launch, but maybe the fresh lake air is just what the doctor ordered.
Besides, it’s just for two weeks — what could happen, right?
Maybe this doesn’t help much, but Lake is both exactly what it looks like and simultaneously not what it seems at first glance. Yes, you’re delivering mail in a sleepy little lakeside town in Oregon (heavy emphasis on “sleepy”), Yes, you get to take in all the stunning scenery that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. But hidden within this little town full of little people is the beating heart of Providence Oaks, Meredith’s past, and maybe even her future.
It’s possible to break up Lake in two different parts: delivering mail and interacting with the townfolk after a hard day’s work. Starting in the wee hours of the morning, players will need to deliver letters and packages to the handful of residents around the lake. Your temporary coworker, Ralph, offers you a map to help plan the day at a glance, and a mini-map in the corner helps pinpoint the exact location of nearby deliveries. Once a location is discovered, it’s possible to chart a course to auto-pilot and even fast travel, making a chill game even more relaxing.
After a long day of delivering mail, Meredith will spend time talking to friends, family, and those met along the way. It seems Meredith filled a void in Providence Oaks as the resident problem-solver, and everyone seems to need her for one reason or another. Take a sick cat to a guy who knows animals? No problem! Babysit the kids one evening while mom and dad go to a concert? Why not! Help figure out some legal issues surrounding stopping new apartments from being built in the area? Nothing’s too hard for this do-gooder gofer! On occasion, mom, dad, and Meredith’s boss Steve will call, the latter asking for some last minute work requests despite her supposed vacation. The lake may be relaxing, but Meredith’s time off is anything but restful.
When it comes to design, I have to say I genuinely love Lake’s very own Providence Oaks. I’ve spent some time in rural Oregon and it feels pretty true to form, especially the downtown area. Looking at the credits I noticed a familiar city-planner’s name in Konstantinos Dimopoulos, who authored Virtual Cities: An Atlas & Exploration of Video Game Cities, so perhaps the stellar city design shouldn’t be a surprise. Getting around the lake delivering mail was the best part of Lake, and I really credit this to the overall design of the city made with my specific mail-carrying duties in mind.
Unfortunately, not everything about Lake was smooth sailing; for one, the townspeople really ask a lot out of Meredith, and it’s hard to remember everything I’ve promised. I am able to check out my planner at home, but I don’t seem to be able to pull it up on my route, which is really quite frustrating. I ended up overpromising my time to two different people unknowingly because I couldn’t check my planner to see if I had other commitments scheduled for the evening. I was able to pull up a clipboard and check deliveries for the day, so why not plans as well?
Additionally, Lake seemed to be hampered by some technical issues, especially pertaining to audio. The mail truck’s engine idles softly throughout the entirety of the game, which was fine when it was actually present on the scene, but while cozying up to some light reading at home or enjoying a steak dinner inside a diner? It was annoyingly pervasive. And while the voice acting really gave the entire title some charm on top of charm, it seemed to cut out in places, dropping the last few words before rushing to the next line. Coupled with characters suddenly disappearing after their last delivered line (noticeably more often towards the end), these off-kilter details poured a little bit of rain on an otherwise great game.
Also, you cannot pet the cats. I am devastated.
I had something of a journey myself while playing Lake, if I’m being perfectly honest. Without going into too much detail about storyline spoilers, I saw a lot of me in Meredith — a childless woman who wants to make sure everyone else is taken care of, Meredith has a really hard time with saying no. Who else spends their vacation not only working, but working someone else’s job??? Meredith may have wanted to get some well-earned rest and relaxation, but she’s instead cat-sitting, ferrying around a VCR, and taking photos for the new photolab at the general store. Does Meredith only exist to make life more convenient for others?
It kind of dawned on me that I tend to do this myself, so midpoint through the game I started just saying no to people. I started trying to reclaim Meredith’s life for herself (myself?) and I’m happy to say that sticking to my guns with that kind of mindset until the very end made for an extremely satisfying bit of dialogue where I finally got a chance to explicitly say “I’m doing what’s best for me.” Is this what a mid-life crisis is for boring-ass middle aged women? Did I just experience mine both virtually and vicariously through a video game character? I need to get out more. I wonder if there are any rural Oregon towns that need a mail carrier…
Lake is an extremely charming story-driven title where you can accidentally be so nice to everyone that you end up forgetting to live for yourself. For the right kind of person, that in and of itself can be a much-needed wake up call; for everyone else, it’s in the very least a soothing little mail-carrying simulator that allows you to set the pace. If you’re looking for some slice-of-life goodness that provides some chill and calming ambiance, taking it easy with Lake is a no-brainer.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: XBox One, XBox Series X | S, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Whitethorn Digital; Developer: Gamious; Players: 1; Released: September 1, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Lake provided by the publisher.