I’m pretty sure that I mentioned it before but I grew up in a relatively small town with maybe 6000 inhabitants. The town itself was originally a settlement from 1200AD and later turned into a town, burned down twice, and eventually became a tourist hotspot. I moved out about three years ago because of the university and stuff, but I also wanted to get away as far as possible from that town and what I noticed is that that was a good decision but I still kind of get the little cravings of returning or maybe even settling down to my hometown with all the old people that I chatted with every day. The reason why I obviously won’t do that, however, is that I have quite a lot of negative connotations with my hometown and in reality, I always notice that it has changed, when I come for a visit – and sadly it never is for the better. Well, today’s review is about a game called Lake and about “returning to your hometown” – but it has a more positive note to it than my story there.
Developer: Gamious Publisher: Whitethorn Digital Genre: Indie, Narrative Adventure, Mail Delivery, Simulation Release Date: September 1st, 2021 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC, Switch, XB1, XBS, PS4 Copy was provided by the developer.
It’s 1986! Meredith Weiss takes a break from her career in the big city and returns to her hometown where she takes over her father’s job as a mailman while he and Meredith’s mother enjoy themselves in Florida. Delivering mail sounds truly exciting, doesn’t it? But in Lake, it’s actually a great means to not only meet interesting people but also enjoy the calmness of a small town in the middle of nowhere. Step into the role of Meredith Weiss to deliver letters and packages to the people – while you find yourself and calm down for a bit. Lake takes you to Providence Oaks with an iconic lake, interesting characters, and a lot of woods. Over two to three weeks, you deliver mail to the people and interact with the Oakians. In the evenings, you decide on what you want to do. Do you read a book, watch TV, or do you work on those tasks that your boss gave you, even though you’re on vacation… The choice is yours! In the mornings, you take control of your mail truck and drive to different houses, get out, move up to their door, and get the job done. It’s simple yet effective as the core gameplay loop is a simple means of introducing you to new and old people alike!
Quirky side characters!
The characters in Providence Oaks are either new characters that Meredith interacts with for the first time or that she meets again after having been gone for 22 years. This leads to some interesting scenarios and events where you need to take care of someone’s cats or you go and help out an old friend. Obviously, you don’t have to do anything like that but in a way, the atmosphere just loosens you up and you end up feeling as if you just have to help them out. There are romance options as well and the different characters interact with each other throughout the story, too, making the game feel rather alive. I really enjoyed the dialogue options that you had and how some of the conversations turned out. I could see some of my old neighbours in the characters inside this little title and it made me rather nostalgic and happy, in a way.
A nice change of pace!
It may sound boring but the game is quite simple in a way. You could say that this is a Walking Simulator and the most exciting thing in the game is the disappearance of a character… that comes back a bit later… It’s not the most thrilling experience, but yet I found it enjoyable as driving around the lake, exploring the world, planning your routes and interacting with strangers has been truly enjoyable. I had a lot of fun and enjoyed the change of pace, a lot actually. The game is beautiful in this The Long Dark esque art style and it features an interesting soundtrack with some original tracks as well that really took me back to shitty radio shows back in my hometown. I mean, I didn’t like some of the songs but you can always turn off the radio… And yes, the game is technically about delivering mail and hence could seem incredibly boring to some people but I personally don’t think that this interesting approach to a Walking Sim is all that bad. It’s a nice and fresh take on an old formula and you’re technically free to go anywhere you want, really. There is no time limit on any of your activities and you don’t need to stress over optimization or anything as long as you deliver the letters to the right location.
Where are all the people?
I don’t see any flaws in that inherent gameplay loop but I did have a few issues in regards to immersion and the world. Yes, the characters felt realistic and interesting and the game is great to chill out and relax to… But (!) I would have loved to see more animals in the world and more people walking around and that sort of stuff. You see some birds flying around maybe and there are some people around at times… But most of the time, you end up knocking at a door and nobody opens it, so you just leave the package there at the door. I would have liked it if the developers over at Gamious added some life to Providence Oak and maybe created some variety here with different people signing that they received the package. Hey, even a dog chasing you around or something like that could be great to make the world feel more alive. Similarly, the lack of passerby’s was a bit alarming and while there were cars around on the streets, they mostly behaved like stupid AIs. None tried taking over or speeding up or anything. There were no consequences for going very fast, driving around like a madman, or doing anything of the sort… Felt a bit weird, to be honest.
BUT all in all, I don’t think that those small flaws are dealbreakers. Lake is a rather wholesome and relaxing experience with multiple endings, a bunch of achievements, the ability to honk at people, romance options, and a simple yet satisfying gameplay loop that also offers some freedom for the player to change the story accordingly. It’s a very satisfying game that I can highly recommend to anyone looking for a chill time across about eight hours (+ more if you chase achievements and other endings).