Some games are easy to categorise and put into a specific genre. Beat ’em up, shoot ’em up, adventure game, FPS, etc. Some are not, just like Lake from developer Gamious. Honestly, I really don’t know how to define this game at all. It’s an adventure game… I guess, kind of. But not really at the same time. Here, take a look at the trailer, then I’ll do my best to explain what it’s all about.
So, the game is set in 1986 and you play as Meredith Weiss. Meredith takes a break from her job in the big city at a software company to return to her small hometown of Providence Oaks, where she works as a mail carrier… and that’s about it. You deliver mail. During your mail delivering duties, you’ll meet friends old and new, have conversations to then unwind after work. There’s no right or wrong way to play Lake at all, you just play it. And it’s a ‘strange’ experience too, not a bad strange at all, but more of an interesting and intriguing strange.
The main gameplay has you driving around Providence Oaks in your delivery van and handing out letters and parcels to the various residents. At the start of every day, you are given a list of the residents who’ll be needing their post. There’s a handy list with the addresses of everyone you need to make a delivery to. Thankfully, you don’t need to memorise the names of people or their addresses. In fact, you don’t even need the list itself as everything is displayed on the in-game map. Bring up the map, place a waypoint to your next delivery location and away you go. Technically you don’t even need to drive yourself either. The game features both a fast travel system to key locations and even an auto-drive option. So you can just pick a house, let the auto-drive do its thing, then just sit back and relax.
The driving of the postal truck in the game is really basic too. There’s the usual accelerate and reverse, of course. You can’t even crash so to speak. You can bump into roadside obstacles and even other vehicles driving around town, but those crashes don’t really affect you other than make you stop. There’s no GTA style road rage here. Anyway, get to your delivery location and you’ll either have to post some mail into the roadside mailboxes, which is done with a simple press of a button. Or, in the case of delivering a parcel, you’ll have to go to the back of your truck, open it and grab the correct parcel for the address you are at. Again, this is simple as each parcel is individually addressed and the address that you are at is displayed in the bottom corner of the screen. Everything about this game is foolproof and devilishly simple too.
As you deliver to the residents of Providence Oaks, you’ll get to know them more and more. Conversations will reveal more about everyone you meet, as well as fill in Meredith’s (your) backstory. The main story is (as already covered) you getting away from your high-paid software company job to work as a mail-person. You are taking the place of your father who has gone to Florida for a break himself with your mother. Anyway, after you finish a day of delivering the post, you get to unwind at home. You’ll also get various phone calls from both your parents letting you know how they are getting on as well as your boss from work asking for favours. After which, it is back to delivering post. You’ll also do side-quests around town such as helping the local cat-lady get one of her cats well after falling ill or even helping out the owner of the local VHS store to drum up some business.
The later side-quest even opens up relationship options in the game that I’ll not spoil here. The VHS shop is also a bit of a hoot to visit anyway. It’s full of parody VHS tapes for you to spot and have a laugh with. At first, I thought the parody films were to get around possible tricky copyright issues. However, the side-quest for the VHS shop has you delivering videotapes of real (non-parody) films to residents. Other side-quests open up all sorts of other issues for you to deal with as the game progresses.
After a little contemplation, I think I have the perfect genre the game fits into. Lake is a cosy ’em up. Everything is just so pleasant, nice, relaxing and, well… cosy. There is no action to speak of, no running around killing enemies, no experience points and levelling up or worrying about your character build. You just drive around, deliver mail and talk to people. It’s all very twee, serene, wholesome and relaxing. You can even go to the local diner and play an arcade game if you like.
I did come across a few negatives in terms of the low budget of the game. I found more than a few graphical issues. Shadows glitching as I was driving around, some very obvious pop-up graphics, questionable character animations. There was even a time when I was using the auto-drive option and my van got stuck in the road. However, I’m not going to sit here and rip this game apart for minor niggles. This is a low budget indie game and you just can’t expect perfection. Hell, a lot of AAA, big-budget titles have similar and even worse issues than this. So I’m more than willing to overlook a few slight niggles that never really ruined the game for me. Even more so when Lake is actually a very pretty game to look at to boot.
This all brings me to my final conclusion. Lake is being sold for £16 and for me, that is just feels a shade too much for what you get. Don’t get me wrong, I really loved my time delivering mail in the small town of Providence Oaks. I loved meeting all the people. I loved the slow pace and freedom the game has with no right or wrong way to play. Lake really chilled me out, to be honest. However, the interactions just feel too restrictive and pedestrian, conversations you have never feel like they’ll have any real impact for the most part (save a couple of instances at the end). Lake is a wonderful concept, it’s just a tad too linear and the choices you have never do really feel like choices in the grand scheme or that they will affect the story… aside from the very end. Still, I think that’s kind of the point.
Lake is a fantastically relaxing and tranquil game, a delightful change of pace if you ever feel like just unwinding and chilling out. It just needed a bit more meat on the bones. More interactions (like the arcade game), more depth, more… just more. Why can’t I pet the cats? Maybe do a spot of fishing? I still do recommend the game, very much so. But I need to just make people aware that Lake is very restrictive and you never really feel as free as I think the game wants you to feel. The gameplay is very light but it was the story and characters that kept me going until the end. I just had to see what was going to happen. Then, as I watched the end credits to the game (after about seven hours of playtime), I have to admit to having a warm and fuzzy feeling though. It really is a cosy ’em up and I do hope to see more from the devs in the future.