Lake takes an interesting concept to base a game around, but the lacking character development holds it back.
Posted by Nate on 12 September 2021 at 10:15AM
Lake is a game I really want to recommend. A novel scenario and setting, its gameplay loop is initially refreshing and relaxing, and it's a game that primarily focusses on its characters. However, the further I got into the game, the more I felt a slight ill-ease towards it.
You see, everything just feels all to easy. Meredith Weiss, our protagonist, is taking a fortnight long break from her job, and travels to her home town of Providence Oaks to house-sit for her parents and fill in for her father's work as a postal worker. I think the first sign that something was a little odd was when it became clear that Meredith hasn't visited this town, where her parents live, once in twenty-two years, when she first moved away. Was there some bad blood with the town, or her parents? You are witness to phone calls with Meredith's parents on some evenings, and everything appears to be happy and relaxed. Furthermore, all the townspeople are happy to see Meredith, and other than commenting how long it has been, don't mention her lack of visits.
That was just the first little warning sign. Meredith excels as being a postal worker with little to no training, doesn't have any issues with the van or roads, there is no conflict with anyone, there are no dogs in Providence Oaks, all the townspeople open up to you immediately, people want to date you, your work back home is going well. It's all eerily positive.
In fact, taking a look at some of the characteristics of the NPCs only added to my unease. Walking around the diner, the people there are sitting at the tables, staring directly forwards and not blinking. It started to feel like this entire town was staged for Meredith. Her very own Truman Show. I even reported someone to the authorities, and yet, the next time I saw them, they said it was fine and continued as if nothing had happened.
I'm aware that Lake is a game made by a small team, and one cannot expect a fully life-like space, but, for me, it was something that detracted from the various character arcs that you encounter. There were some lovely little details around the town though. I especially enjoyed all the slightly changed film names, like Blade Jogger.
Lake does excel in many ways. The town of Providence Oaks is beautiful and fun to drive around, and your postal van controls well, with a suitable weighty feel. The mail is separated between letters and parcels, the latter you have to hand over to the resident, unless there is no answer for the door, in which case you leave it on the doorstep. It's a clever mechanic to base the game around. The game isn't as much about the experience of the work itself, but about the characters in the town. It felt like a natural way to meet the range of old friends, acquaintances and new faces across the town. And really, the game is about them, and Meredith's relationships with them.
Meredith has seemingly heard no news of the town in her absence, and there is a lot she learns across the two weeks she is working. People will chat to you when you deliver parcels, initially nosey about a new face in the town, and will ultimately ask favours. I took a cat to a fisherman in lieu of a vet, delivered video tapes to customers, and helped with a plea on local radio, among others. While you are given a choice of dialogue options, and can turn down the requests, it felt like the conversations were mainly pre-determined, providing you didn't just say no.
On the first few days on the job, I really enjoyed driving around the town delivering mail. After a while though, it felt like a tedious means to an end for completing the narrative lines with the game's characters. By the final few days, bearing in mind there are only twelve days of delivering mail, I was feeling a little fed up with it. The character plot lines had concluded, so I was just working my way to the end of the game.
Ultimately, I did enjoy my seven hours with Lake, but it falls slightly short with its character writing. It became clear that it was the main draw of the game, but much of the character development wasn't all that interesting, and everything wrapped up very nicely without any real obstacles along the way. Steve, your boss in the city job, is an unlikeable character and clearly overbearing in his demands. You take phone calls from him in the evenings and have the option to do the work that he is requesting. Meredith seems very affable to him ignoring that you are on holiday from that job, and there are no comments or penalty from anything else going on. She was able to complete it satisfactorily, as she was every other task. I just feel that the topic should have been touched upon.
The concept for Lake is a good one, and it's a nice relaxing game to play. I just wish the characters you met along the way were more intriguing, with more complex thoughts and narratives.
- The town itself is beautifully realised.
- The concept of the game is novel
- Initially interesting cast of characters..
- but their development is lacking.
- Everything that happens in the game feels 'too easy'.