‘Lake’ review: a compelling and captivating narrative tale

The 80s, but probably not as you know it

The word “lake” probably conjures up an image in your mind. It’s probably something calm and tranquil, perhaps even with a dash of seclusion, far away from the hustle and bustle of your average cityscape. The word lake, then, already goes a large way to embodying just what Lake by developers Gamious is about.

In her mid-30s, Meredith Weiss is facing something of an early midlife crisis. She’s incredibly burned out, weighed down by an overbearing boss and an ever-increasing amount of work to sift through in her corporate sales job. Until one day, that is, when Meredith decides to take some time to herself, reflecting on her life and job over the course of a two-week break in an escape to Providence Oaks, the town she used to call home.

Meredith comes with plenty of baggage, then, but she’s rudderless and it’s up to you to add some direction to her life and make the choices that’ll shape her two weeks in the rural American northwest. It’s up to the player to choose which members of the local community to interact with, which characters she wants to book up her diary with, and who she wants to be potentially more than friends with.

Lake delivery
Lake. Credit: Gamious

This is all done against the backdrop of Meredith delivering mail. She’s agreed to take up the job of her father while he’s on vacation, trucking around the titular lake of Providence Oaks in a delightful mail van and popping letters and parcels to a handful of houses each day. While out on her rounds, Meredith will meet the likes of Robert, the hermit-like lumberjack leading a grassroots campaign against the gentrification of Providence Oaks, or Lori, the 15-year-old mechanic who’s itching at the chance to ditch everyone and everything relating to the town. It’s up to you, through a litany of dialogue options, whether Meredith jumps at the opportunity to get to know these people better, or simply passes them by, spending her two weeks longing for nothing more than to return to her sales job in the big city.

Providence Oak’s colourful population are Lake‘s heart and soul. Gamious’ adventure seemed like a lovely mail delivering-sim when it was first revealed, but really it’s more of a narrative-driven adventure, which puts the player at the helm of Meredith’s social interactions while she’s at this crossroads in her life. Pursue conversations regularly with Robert the lumberjack, for example, and he’ll eventually ask you to take part in his campaign against the local authorities, while Lori will let down her guard and invite you to advise her on the complicated conundrums facing her.

As a narrative-driven game then, Lake presents the player with plenty of decisions to make if they pursue relationships with Providence Oak’s population. There’s nothing quite as a dramatic as Mass Effect’s life or death choices here, but there’s the real sense at the end of the adventure that you’ve successfully carved out your own unique tale within Lake, as the decisions you’ve made and relationships you’ve nurtured over the two weeks leave a lasting impression on Meredith.

Lake dialogue
Lake. Credit: Gamious

The decisions aren’t earth-shattering in part because Lake has a peaceful soul. Just like the smooth, ambient soundtrack pulsating through the radio, there’s a gentle, relaxed pace within Gamious’s adventure tale. Nowhere is this better represented by the literal pace at which Meredith and her mail van move: holding down the “sprint” button for Meredith slightly increases her walking speed, while the van itself never feels like it’s barreling down the winding, wild lanes of Providence Oaks. It’s a very explicit design choice from Gamious, and one that really drives home the laid back spirit and nature of Lake itself, that the player is meant to take things at their own pace and really soak in the atmosphere of Providence Oaks over roughly six hours.

Just as the pace of Lake is exemplified through the literal pace of Meredith, the monotony of life in Providence Oaks is embodied in the mail delivery role. Every day, Meredith starts out at the mail office, perfectly positioned to hop into her van and get cracking on the rounds. You’ll drive to and from each delivery point, which can be as little as two seconds or as far as half a minute in between. The entire route never takes more than roughly ten minutes, but it’s brilliantly positioned at the start of every single day in Lake to capture the reality of living in a town in the ass-end of nowhere, and how life in said town can be what you make of it: a lighthearted little jaunt, growing closer to your surroundings and the people, or a mundane and dreary experience where joy is a scarcity.

Lake beautifully encapsulates the spirit of a town lost in the middle of nowhere, and the former inhabitant returning to it for some comfort after realising they’re just as lost as the town they once called home. There’s some genuinely affecting characters to meet out in the wilds of Providence Oaks, and their scattershot personalities just beckon the player to want to engage with them at every opportunity. Some minor technical mishaps aside, Lake is a great little narrative-driven adventure game, perfectly capturing the heart of Providence Oaks and its community, a heroic feat in its relatively short run time.

Lake is available on September 1 for PC – which we tested here – and Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S.

The Verdict

A fantastic feat of storytelling and character building in relatively short time, Lake demands to be played. Compelling narratives and characters unfold beautifully and organically in an adventure game that lets the player cobble together their own tales of Providence Oaks.

Pros

  • Memorable and empathetic characters
  • Brilliant branching narrative pathways
  • Peaceful nature embodied through delivering mail

Cons

  • Small technical glitches and bugs
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