I'm continuing on my Xbox Pass reign of terror! Just kidding, but it's kinda true - I will continue to be trying out games on Game Pass until my trial expires. I've been really wanting to play Lake ever since I saw the trailer last year and I was very curious about this cute game where you deliver mail in a small town. Lake is a relaxing, slice-of-life game where you play as Meredith, a mail carrier back in their scenic hometown. Lake succeeds in being being wholesome, comforting, and fun but the slow-paced style at times is too slow and is hindered by a couple of bugs.
You start Lake with the story concretely placing you in 1986, which I found really interesting choice in setting. Meredith is a 40-something woman who works for a software company in a big city, and she works non-stop to meet deadlines. She is finally taking some much-needed time off work, but it's not for a vacation - it's to fill in for her dad as a mail carrier in her hometown of Providence Oaks, Oregon. This part was really hard for me to process: like, this woman is taking days off work but to work a different job! Also, her boss Steve can barely bear to let her go and keeps asking her to reconsider. Thankfully, the job in Providence Oaks is at least a big change of scenery and pace from her regular job. She hasn't been back to her hometown since she left 22 years ago but many people still remember her. You drive around delivering mail and packages while occasionally taking requests from the locals and reconnecting with some lost connections from home.
Going in, I didn't really know what else Lake was about beyond delivering mail. I had no idea it was basically a romance simulator, too! While Meredith is out delivering mail, she gets to know some of the locals pretty well and ends up with a few offers to go out on dates. Without giving too much away, I just want to say I found it really funny how similar the romance options were to Life is Strange: True Colors. Just like in that game, picking who pursue was an easy choice for me in Lake. I wouldn't have guessed that the protagonist is bisexual but it was cool to see that aspect of her just be part of the regular day-to-day events even in a small, predominantly-white town mostly inhabited by older people (and in the 80's!). The game is also full of choices to make, small and big. You can choose who you want to spend time with after work, and this includes new friendships. Choosing to do one thing on a certain afternoon means you can't do another. I feel like this is one of those few games where the choices actually feel like the influence the story, and it kinda made me want to replay the game just to see how different choices would influence the outcome. However, the big choice at the end is the one that most determines what kind of ending you'll get. I was really happy with the one I got, but I did go online to check out the other endings just out of curiosity.
Lake very clearly stands out for its really beautiful natural environments that you freely travel through. Providence Oaks is built around a huge, clear lake and is surrounded by trees and mountains in all directions. The art of the characters maintains a colorful and somewhat realistic style, but it isn't quite as polished as the environments. The facial expression look a little weird when the characters talk, but this honestly didn't bother me coming from an indie game that had many other merits. One being the fact that the game is actually fully voice-acted, and it's done pretty well. My complain isn't about the voice acting so much as it is about the script itself. The dialogue felt a little cheesy and unrealistic. Maybe I'm just being nitpicky though - what do I know, maybe people really talked like this in the 1980's? I wasn't born yet and I didn't even move to the US until 2000, so I can't say. The music in the game consists of folksy, acoustic songs that play on the radio while you drive around town. It's honestly such a nice vibe and helps make this game very easygoing and relaxing. There's a few original tracks as well, one being the credits theme which not only was an excellent vocal track but was closely connected to the game's story.
The gameplay rhythm of this game was pretty on-point and I was really enjoying myself despite doing mostly the same tasks every day. You drive around this beautiful town, music playing on the radio, making stops to drop off mail and occasionally talking to locals when dropping off packages. Despite how relaxing this was, the truth is... I spent more time than I'd like to admit being chaotic and making myself laugh. You can drive freely through town, which means I can run into people (especially police cars) on purpose then honk at them. Your truck doesn't get damaged, but you can collide pretty dang hard with a mail truck. Also, if you stop in the middle of a central road for enough time, you can manage to cause a traffic pile-up in this town which I find very funny. I encountered a few bugs, some due to my reckless driving and some not. Honestly, most of the bugs I encountered were more funny than they were bothersome (see my Youtube channel for more). The only exception was when I was excited to see my developed photos I'd taken on the camera but for some reason they were all black squares. This was a bit of bummer since I spent a lot of time trying to get good pictures and I couldn't repeat this sidequest, as far as I could tell. However, the biggest thing I think could improve in this game would be adding the ability to run or walk a little bit faster. After a while, even if you drive right up to the mailboxes, walking super slow gets really old.
I had a lot of fun playing Lake, both because it was so relaxing and because I was free to cause enact chaos in this open-world mail-delivery simulator. None of the bugs I ran into were game-breaking, but much like the slow movement it did slightly hinder my experience. If you like low-stakes games, making choices, and romance sims then I highly recommend this game. It's something you can zone out and play and feel like you're far away from the problems of the world. The story is a good reminder that your work is not who you are, and sometimes you need distance to find yourself again.
I told my partner, "this game kinda has the plot of Hallmark movie". I was only partly joking. Look, that's not an insult, it's just something y'all need to know about this little slice-of-life game. Hallmark movie but bi.
Lake is available on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S
Played on: PC
Playtime: 6 hrs