You can call Lake a lot of things but ugly isn’t one of them. Providence Oaks is a beautifully quaint country town that has a charm at every turn and a Lake in the centre of it. Playing as Meredith Weiss, you’ve come back home to for a working holiday to do your dads postal job and escape corporate IT America in 1986. Do you like the fast life or the slow lane and what could make you stay or leave for good?
Lake is full of charming locale and characters. Meredith is a relatively blank slate that you can draw yourself onto but she is voiced well and with character and humour. Do you want to reconnect with old friends? Do you want to start a possible romance with man, woman or flirt with both? Do you become a hippie and get high at the campfire? Or is this all hellish and you’d rather get it over and get back to your IT job where money awaits? You can decide through dialogue interactions as you post mail around the town. All the main characters are voiced and have multiple routes you can close off and ignore if you just don’t want to engage them. You’ll get the most out of Lake if you do socialise though.
That’s because the gameplay loop of delivering parcels and letters is purposefully mundane. Each day in a two week period you start off with a list of letters and parcels and you drive around the map, stop outside each place and then walk to the door or mail box. If they aren’t a main character, they aren’t home and so you leave the parcel and continue on your way. This does make Providence Oaks feel a bit empty and lifeless but it also lets you trigger conversations and meet ups with the main characters quicker. Lake seems to realise this might become tiresome over time and adds in quick travel later on in the game to various junctions around the Lake to speed up deliveries.
As you chat with characters, they’ll all have a perspective on living life for money, family, the fast lane or the slow one. Your chats with others, in particular with ex best friend Kay and Aunt Maureen, I found to be the games highlights. They’ve settled in Providence Oaks, Maureen happily, Kay begrudgingly but now wilfully. Each of them feel like rounded people who give sound advice but have a laugh too and these moments feel like top tier Slice of Life anime. The pace in Lake is always gentile no matter what is being said and you can take the decisions in your own time. The gameplay loop sees you play postie in the day and then depending on who you chat to, the option to socialise or stay in at night. You can choose from some limited options when you stay at home so again, being social is the better route.
Away from deliveries you can also pick up other mini games in your own time too. A wave shooter is in the cafe. You can take 12 photos with a digital camera in an under utilised but great extra challenge. You can deliver other parcels against company policies. All while doing this a radio station plays out with resident comments and some country rock songs. These songs are great for the first hour you hear them but they loop so often and seem unbalanced in their song rotation, I found them switch from catchy to grating. A bit like the postal work. That’s because I ran into a few bugs that made postal deliveries a little bit of a chore. Meredith needs to be told to get into the van but half the time the command just walks her up to the door and she keeps walking as if the game doesn’t realise she’s at the van. It’s quite particular. I also had two instances of her spawning inside buildings or in places you can’t reach in the game which facilitated a restart and lost progress. I believe this has now been addressed though.
Ultimately, Lake’s best features are the ones you take away after experiencing the story. It made me think about my work/life balance and what I would change about it. Lake made me think about how I balance what matters to me and what I sacrifice as a result and doing that by story alone speaks volumes about how well it plays out (romance melodrama aside). This is a lovely slice of life adventure that with a patch or two would be an easy 8/10. At the moment, its a 7.5 because of the issues raised and its mundane by design gameplay loop, but the story is well worth exploring.
Review copy provided by publisher.
A heart-warming tale of self discovery and reflection marred slightly with poor pacing and a few bugs.
A beautiful setting.
A cast of characters you'll warm to.
Several different endings to trigger although you can pivot between them depending on how you play.
A story that made me think about my own life choices after I finished playing.
Control and teleporting bugs sometimes make things a bit frustrating.
The postal delivery parts become a little monotonous.
A great soundtrack made annoying by its repetition.
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