Lake review

By Heidi Nicholas,
Are you stressed? Feeling a little harried? Or do you just fancy heading back to a simpler time? Then you might want to dip your toe into Lake, which just might be the laid-back game for you. It takes us back to the Eighties and revolves around two weeks in the life of Meredith Weiss, who has a big decision to make: whether she wants to return to her busy city life and her career at a software company, or whether she wants to stay at Providence Oaks. She has those two weeks to decide, but there’s nothing stressful or harried about that deadline — Meredith’s time at Providence Oaks is spent delivering mail and quietly reconnecting with her hometown and its residents. Amidst the river of fast-paced, hectic games launching this year, Lake sits quietly apart as a relaxing slice-of-life experience — as calm and unhurried as a… well, you know.


At the outset, the idea that you’ll spend most of your time delivering mail might seem a little off-putting, especially while you get used to the admittedly slightly stiff controls for the mail truck. But Lake’s story, such as it is, unravels gently as you travel along your route, speaking to the residents and hearing their stories. Even your job as mail carrier is laid back — Lake’s days are split into morning, afternoon, and evening, but the working day lasts as long as it takes you to deliver each letter and parcel and return to the post office. If you decide to go exploring, or chat to the townspeople, your day will stretch, and new possibilities will open. Chatting to the old lady and her half a dozen cats might mean that next time, she’ll ask you to take one to the vet for her, or to catsit while she’s out. You get the sense that Meredith severed some ties as she disappeared into her city life, and you’ll need those slow and gentle days to rebuild her connections. Your evenings are quiet to begin with, but as the residents get used to Meredith, they’ll start to invite her out to things — soon, Meredith’s calendar starts to fill up, and a life in Providence Oaks begins to build around her.

Lake open-world adventure gameplay

Providence Oaks is a small town, and you’ll cover most of it as you make your daily rounds. It’s not exactly a holiday from Meredith’s other job, either, as her city colleagues still make contact to ask for help, but it’s up to you how Meredith spends her days — whether she carries on working into the evening, whether she accepts an invitation out, or whether she just kicks back and relaxes. Lake seems entirely geared towards a laid-back gameplay experience, and everything works towards that. The music, the weather, even the interactions with other townspeople... everything is slowed down to that quiet, country pace. There are fast travel points, and you can try to speed through your deliveries if you want to, but it feels counterintuitive to Lake’s laid-back themes — it’s not meant to be rushed, and you’d miss out on much of its relaxing charm if you did hurry through it. When we spoke to co-game designer and lead writer Jos Bouman for our Xbox Exclusive Spotlight on Lake, he told us that the team had originally planned for Meredith’s stay in Providence Oaks to last three weeks, before deciding that it worked better as two. Two weeks does indeed feel like a good choice, as Lake’s story can feel a little stretched even across those fourteen days. This does play into Lake’s homecoming theme, as it takes time for Meredith to settle back into the Providence Oaks community, but on the other hand it can be a little daunting when you think you have another full day of mail delivery left before any possible story development.

Lake open-world adventure gameplay

Lake is a beautiful game, although some parts do look a little unpolished. Providence Oaks is lovely, with the lake’s beauty offset by golden sunsets or gentle rain showers, but there can be somewhat of an unfinished feel, such as with the game's rigid NPCs or flickering shadows. This doesn’t detract much from the game’s charm, however, as Lake’s biggest draw is that laid back gameplay experience. This is aided by its Eighties setting, which Bouman says was chosen due to its being a time before consumer technology really took off. There are nods to Eighties icons scattered throughout, especially at the video store, where you’ll see posters for “Back to the Present” or a David Bowie-esque figure on a poster for “Maze.” Meredith isn’t on her phone at all hours of the day, but is fully focused on Providence Oaks’ routine, adding another level of immersion into the game. The game's relaxed, laid back air seems to extend to its achievements — as Bouman told us, “We don't want to stress people too much, so achievements should form a nice extra value, in line with the vibe of the game. So we won't have achievements like 'delivering all mail within 10 minutes', or 'drive around the lake 100 times'." Lake has just ten achievements, all of which are secret, although the few I unlocked seemed to reward exploration and interaction with the town and its residents.

Lake open-world adventure gameplay


Summary

Overall, Lake is a lovely addition to the narrative adventure genre — even if it doesn’t go so far as to push the boundaries of that genre — and offers a relaxed adventure which could serve as a welcome counterpoint to some of the chaos going on in today’s world. You can almost feel the stresses of Meredith’s city life melting away, although Lake does a good job of not pushing you towards one decision or another. It’s entirely up to you, after exploring Providence Oaks and working your way back into the lives of its people, to decide what Meredith should do next. I had fun in my time as Providence Oaks' mail carrier, and even though that job can feel a little stale at times, Lake's charming inhabitants and its gentle story make it more than worth a visit.
7 / 10
Lake
Ethics
Heidi spent eight and a half hours delivering mail and chatting with the residents of Providence Oaks, earning six achievements as she went.
Heidi Nicholas
Written by Heidi Nicholas
Heidi graduated with an MA in English Literature, and now enjoys writing news, reviews, and features across TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies. When she’s not writing, Heidi is usually either looking for her next RPG, or trying to convince the rest of the team to hear about yet another delightfully wholesome game she has found.