Review – Lake
Gamious’ Lake is a weird game. Don’t take this the wrong way, I’m not calling it bad, because it’s far from it. However, I would have loved to see the meeting that resulted in this game being greenlit. By all intents and purposes, it is a hard game to sell to an audience. You play as a woman in her early forties, who has decided to go back to her lakeside hometown for a few weeks and work temporarily in a post office in the meantime. It is a slow-moving game, intentionally lethargic. Yet, it has heart. A premise like that could have resulted in a game oozing pretentiousness and arrogance from its pores, which wasn’t the case.
In Lake, you control Meredith Weiss. She works for a tech company in the late 80s, but is stressed with work and a hectic schedule. She therefore decides to book a few weeks off her chaotic life in the big city by going back to her hometown of Providence Oaks, taking a temporary job as a mail carrier in the process. Since this takes place in a small town where everybody knows each other, being a postal worker basically doubles as being an errand girl for the locals, doing a few side missions here and there. You’re also the unofficial town shrink, getting to know more about each resident’s life by talking to them, should they decide to open up with you.
This is when Lake shines. The game does a good job at recreating the vibe of living in a small, cozy town, with friendly neighbors that have distinctive personalities and backstories, not unlike a standard slice of life game like Story of Seasons or Harvest Moon. There’s the deli owner, the crazy cat lady, the young prodigy, your best friend from high school, and so on. Depending on how you talk to these characters, you will gradually unlock new dialogue sections and even some activities after your shift is over. You can even engage in relationships with a handful of them if you do things correctly. Being a mail carrier is more of an excuse the developers found to make Meredith get to know everybody around town quickly, as the story itself revolves around her and her brief moments of escapism.
The actual postal service gameplay loop just doesn’t hold up, though. It is beyond boring and mundane. You are given a set amount of letters and parcels to deliver each day, and you can deliver them in any order. Drive your painfully slow van to a destination, park, then open the van’s back door, pick up a parcel, then sloooooooooooowly walk to the front door to deliver it. Meredith walks like a snail stuck in gravy when you hold down the button that increases her walking speed, and feels like she can’t move at all on her normal walking pace. It is borderline annoying, as there was no reason for her to walk at such a lethargic pace.
Lake, as a whole, is a pretty glitchy game. It looks and feels rushed and unpolished, in a clear case of a game’s development being hampered by the pandemic. The most obvious proof of that lies in its voice acting. The actress doing Meredith’s voice sounds incredible, but a good chunk of the smaller supporting characters not only feature less impressive voice acting, but they also sound worse, as if they had to record their lines on a cheaper microphone. It also doesn’t help that a good chunk of these smaller characters, such as the cat lady, feature terrible movement and facial animations, sometimes not even featuring facial animations at all while talking to you.
That’s a weird thing about Lake: it is equally gorgeous and hideous. I absolutely loved its art style, with a slight touch of cel shading that made it look like Breath of the Wild, but with the color palette from Wind Waker. Providence Oaks is a pretty town, with some breathtaking vistas. Sadly, the game suffers from a noticeable amount of pop-ins, an inconsistent framerate, and the fact that, while pretty and inviting, the town itself feels deserted. There’s no life on the streets, there’s barely anything happening while you’re driving around.
Lake feels almost intentionally designed to be boring and mundane, and it did get on my nerves at times. But unlike other similarly-themed art games out there, its premise is so humble and sweet, being so devoid of pretentiousness and arrogance, that it actually manages to deliver its message of making a fresh start and having a better life far away from the chaos of civilization. It is beyond flawed in terms of presentation and performance, however, so I would only recommend Lake to big art game fans and those into simple slice of like simulators, and only after a patch or two has been released.
The game somehow alternates between being gorgeous and hideous in an instant. Its gorgeous art style and usage of colors clash with some poor animations, pop-ins, and terrible facial glitches.
Even if Lake‘s gameplay is supposed to be calm and mundane, some of its controls feel way too annoying, and occasionally glitchy.
A calm and soothing soundtrack coupled with good voice acting, even though some character voices are better mixed than others.
Fun Factor: 6.0
Friendly characters and an overall relaxing vibe almost make up for how (probably intentionally) mundane Lake can be at times.
Final Verdict: 6.0
Lake is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC.
Reviewed on Xbox Series S.
A copy of Lake was provided by the publisher.