Hello. I’m Benjamin Wagner, this is my blog and today I dream of living in a small American town next to the water. Much like the recently reviewed game The Gunk, I only started playing Lake because it was on Gamepass. Unlike The Gunk, I finished this game in one 5 and a half-hour sitting. I have not made it a secret that my mental state has been sensitive in the past week or so, to the extent that I wasn’t really sure if I was going to see 2022 at all. But on the final day of the 2021 demon, a small ray of light shone through the cracks and granted me a brief but meaningful solace from my internal turmoil. The story and message of Lake is unique in that it is practically universal. It carries such a relaxing tone and artistic beauty that it is really hard to compare this ‘game’ to anything I have ever really played before. Usually, I end this opening paragraph with a leading question; weighing up whether I like or dislike this game and leaving you with a reason to continue. This time, there is no need. This is an incredible experience that I could not have imagined loving as much as I did just 12 hours before writing this. I adore Lake. This is why.
Lake places you in the role of Meredith Weiss, a forty-something computer programmer who is a high-flyer at her company; spearheading their success through the new programme Addit 87. You can probably tell from the ’87’ but this game is set in the ’80s, late 1986 to be precise and follows Meredith as she takes a two-week break from her job to return to her hometown to fill in for her father as the town’s mail carrier. Meredith spends her time reconnecting with past friends, meeting new residents and using this time to reflect on her life to this point. What she chooses to do, is up to the player and whether she chooses to move back home permanently, go back to her high-flying career or do something different entirely is all up to you as you create your own path for Meredith to follow.
I’m not averse to spoilers and I will spoil some stuff very soon when speaking of the beautiful characters that inhabit the town of Providence Oaks but for a brief synopsis, I think the above suffices. It is hard to comment on much of this for two reasons, really. The first is that this story is really what you make it. Much of the time you can select between 3 fairly unique dialogue choices and they will begin to set you on whichever path you choose. I only did the one playthrough of this game and whilst I don’t believe the routes differ massively, you will get some different responses from your choices and also a few different endings as well. The second is that the main storyline is very passive. Meredith isn’t back home to fight for the town’s survival or kill a horrendous beast but is instead just doing her father a favour and using it as an excuse to reflect. Meredith’s story is a very introspective one and by explaining it in detail, I feel like I would be ruining it for those who haven’t yet visited this beautiful slice of paradise. That being said, I’m now going to attack this game and explain why I loved it as much as I did.
Things I love
You know what’s coming, right?
THIS IS YOUR SPOILER WARNING. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Yes. I will happily talk about a game in great depth but I think it is prudent to give those who may have stumbled upon this review ample warning before I do so. Some people like to play a game without knowing what is going to happen.
But respect must be given. And it has been. So enough waffling, storytime.
Lake’s central narrative doesn’t really exist. This really isn’t a criticism of the game and, as I said above, the passive storytelling is something that I really love. You are given a simple setup to a small town and you simply communicate with the locals. There really isn’t any more than that and if you expect more than that, you will be very disappointed. But don’t despair my little cherubs. For the small, inconsequential and minor interactions you have with these people are what make this experience special. When you first arrive in town, an older postman shows you the ropes and re-introduces you to your home. Frank seems like nothing more than just a nice guy who is friends with Meredith’s father but he has layers. So many in fact that he is essentially the underworld don of Providence Oaks. Of course, it really isn’t as dark as that and he just seems to be the town’s bookmaker but he is the perfect example of the depth these characters have. Even though you will only engage with each one a few times, they are so relatable and human that you will find it difficult to forget about your time here.
And it’s not just the one guy. Lori is one of a small number of teenagers who live in this sleepy hamlet and she is a wonderful young lady. She is homeschooled and has limited interaction with people her age; schooling and then working in her father’s garage the rest of the time. She has the age-old problem that many young people end up facing; they wish to see more of the world but feel trapped by the small town they are in. You have the option when doing a favour for a different resident (don’t worry, we will get to her) to ask Lori to watch a horror movie with you, as she won’t do it at home to respect her parents. Through this little act of kindness, Lori opens up that she is conflicted about her future and I chose to encourage her to go travel and explore the world. I didn’t go as far as tell her to leave her home behind but encouraged her to follow her heart and chase what she wishes. I felt as if I told her not to, I would be the same as other adults who refuse to allow their children or young people the freedom to grow and make their own decisions and mistakes. My Meredith has been working for 20 years now and can appreciate what she has worked for and what she had left behind and wished to impart that wisdom and guidance to another young person. One that, despite the age difference, she could call a friend. And that is just… nice.
I have never been to America but this game gives off the typical small-town vibe that many media effortlessly portray. It makes me long for something that I have never experienced; a place to return to. A place to remind you of where your life began. A place to call home. But not all people grow up in a place like this. Some people are city people and sometimes, they move somewhere like Providence Oaks. And that person is my one true love… Umm. What I mean to say is that person is Angie Eastman.
Angie is a blonde-haired goddess that I wish was real. Angie runs the town’s video rental store and, despite her business’s dire financial situation, is a peppy and welcoming addition to the town. She grew up in a big city and moved to Providence Oaks in order to step away from the pressures of city life and pursue her love of films. And boy, does she love movies.
And as the above picture says, she really is pretty awesome. From the moment you meet her whilst delivering her package, there is a brilliant sort of chemistry between her and Meredith. A sort of friendliness mixed with a base level of attraction that is just magnetic. They quickly hit it off and Angie (forwardly) invites herself over to Meredith’s to watch some movies and ask a favour of her; a delivery job handing out VCR boxes. And whilst it is funny that videotapes are called ‘the technology of the future’, it is soon revealed that these boxes are the last gasp attempt by Angie to save her failing business. The town of Providence Oaks just isn’t ready for such a leap forward in technology and she is in the wrong place at the wrong time. When Meredith visits the store after delivering a box for her, she is met with a sullen, irritable Angie that is pretty damn rude to Meredith. Of course, my Meredith was understanding and allowed her to vent whilst still attempting to help her new friend. I chose this because the initial meeting of the two left such a happy, warm feeling in my stomach that I wanted to give this young lady a chance to explain her actions. After delivering videos to Lori and the old fisherman, Angie apologises to Meredith for her behaviour, opens up about the state of business and invites Meredith out to the movies to apologise. My Meredith teases her and asks if it’s a date and the playful banter between the pair was infectious.
And then the date itself is nothing but perfection personified. Whilst we only see two conversations between the pair in the car, discussing what to see and then how the movie was, what happened to my Meredith was just… nice. The connection between the two continues to spark and with joking and flirting aplenty, they nervously pull up outside the house of Weiss. They awkwardly try to thumb in goodbye before my Meredith makes a leap; asking Angie in for tea before they kiss.
I love the choices I made to get to this point. I went into this game expecting to find something meditative yet forgettable but found such a grounded telling of lesbian love in its place. Lake doesn’t treat same-sex relationships as anything more than a relationship between two consulting adults. And that is the way the world should be. Providence Oaks is an idyllic setting and that word describes Angie and Meredith for me perfectly. Idyllic.
Of course, it’s not all sun and roses. The next day Angie informs you that she has decided to pack up shop and leave town. This hits like a truck to the face after the beautiful, touching scenes we saw just moments prior. And whilst you understand your feelings for her and her situation, you maturely let her go. There is no desperate chase or airport moment. Angie just leaves. Luckily for me and my soppy heart, it doesn’t end here, as Angie returns to pick up her remaining items and visits the town’s first open mic night that has been prepared by Maureen and Kay; an old friend and the town gossip. Angie leaves you a postcard and remarks that she is finding it difficult to forget Meredith.
Excuse me. What I mean to say is that after your final day of postal carrying, you go to the diner to support your friend Kay and her musical pursuits. As promised, Angie turns up and speaks to you at the party. Luckily for me, I befriended the runaway stoners who were hiding out in the campgrounds and they had given me an RV. This meant I could pursue a happy ending with Angie. Without that vehicle, I would be unable to leave on a road trip and it would lock me into staying as a postperson or going back to computers. I never thought I’d say this but drugs won me the girl. After some more friendly flirting, Meredith… My Meredith made her choice. She loved her time back home and reconnecting with the town she had almost forgotten but there was something even more special to her. Her days programming computers were behind her; as something she didn’t regret but she was ready to forget. Instead, she took a risk and left town in her new RV with Angie at her side. The final scene they share couldn’t be more fitting. They simply drive down the road on their way out of town and just shoot the breeze about movies. They talk, they flirt and they laugh as we pan up and fade out. The story ends here but I feel my Meredith and Angie have a tale that works and one that will start from here.
And it goes to show how much depth of storytelling is thrust into this game that I have barely spoken about Maureen. Or Kay. Or the cat lady. Or the old fisherman. Or the lumberjack. Or the farmer. Or Meredith’s parents. Or her douche boss. All of these characters are so… nice. They ooze realism like I ooze negativity. This town and the people that live here left an impression on me that I just could never have expected. And whilst it is beyond stupid to pretend these characters are any more than just that, these fictional humans provide such a homely and inviting feel that I truly wish the people I knew and engaged with could be as…. nice.
I have now spoken extensively about this story and the characters of this town. The thing is… this game is only about 5 hours long. There aren’t hundreds of hours of dialogue or copious foreshadowing regarding past events. Instead, the game says just enough to allow the player to create the story in their head. Most of what I wrote above is in the game but has been embellished a little by the way I saw these characters. Meredith never says outright that she is sick of the daily grind but it is how I perceived her situation. And this is an incredibly clever storytelling device. They managed to create a story that speaks to the player directly and in such a way, it allows them to create these stories in their heads and add to the existing world and characters. Or that might just be me. I’m unsure. What I am sure of is that it is just… nice.
Even the characters you aren’t supposed to like are engaging and sympathetic. The main culprit here is Meredith’s douche boss Steve. He is a straight asshole. He is pretentious, uncaring and happy to shove work on others as he indulges in his parties and promotions. However, as the two weeks progress, we do learn how much he leans on Meredith and how much he respects and appreciates her work for him. This culminates in a contract offer that shows Steve’s commitment to his company and his adoration for Meredith as a person whilst simultaneously making himself more human than we had been led to believe by his earlier, irritating behaviours. If you chose for your Meredith to go back to the city and continue as a programmer, it is a decision that makes sense given the story’s trajectory. Of course, it is the wrong decision as it doesn’t involve my blonde pixie princess yet it is something I can understand. This game makes every choice that is available to you a viable one. There isn’t anything that pops up where you go ‘that seems unrealistic’ or ‘that’s just stupid’. Everything seems like it could be something Meredith could choose. Meredith is a pre-designed character that is not an open book but is open enough to allow some flexibility. I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again now, the characters feel human. They contain multitudes. Depth. This is why I refer to Meredith as ‘my Meredith’. Your Meredith and your choices could take you down a different path. One that is different but one that will speak to you all the same.
I do want to drop one brief word on the music and the sound. The music tracks that sit next to you in the truck as you deliver your way around town are the perfect accompaniment to the monotonous daily grind. The music varies from catchy pop, some low-key country and some catchy synth music.
As I said before, this game is not a critical masterpiece. The art style is nice but it isn’t going to win any beauty contests. The faces are a little creepy to look at and the lip flaps are downright distracting. The game itself is simply a postman simulator; with the gameplay being nothing more than driving from one spot to the other and delivering parcels and letters in a difficult to control van. The game can bug out sometimes as cars appear from nowhere. You can flip the truck and it can spin out uncontrollably on its head. Meredith can phase through the ground on occasion and the game is a little unpolished. The gameplay is unengaging and some of the dialogue is nothing more than a waste of time. And you know what? I would change none of it.
And that brings us to the crux of the matter. I can’t even pretend to be unbiased here. I love Lake. Its faults don’t detract from the fun I had with the game and add character to the game instead. For me, Lake was the game that I just happened to play at the right time. On the edge of making a stupid, potentially fatal decision, I stumbled onto something. Of course, a game cannot cure the pain that one feels.
But it can distract you. It can help you forget and put into perspective the things you are feeling. Yes, life can be hard. It can be cruel. It often is. But… keep living. Keep searching because if you do, you will find something. It could be a temporary respite from your never-ending grief or a permanent escape from what was tormenting you. Lake is a game that I love but I would never have finished it if I went in happy. Lake is a game that I will never forget because of circumstances that have nothing to do with the game. Lake is a journey that I implore everybody to take.
I have dabbled in interactive experiences like Abzu and Gris but neither clicked with me and left me with any real lasting memory. I don’t know if it is my tenuous current mental problems or the quality of Lake itself but I count my day by the lake as one of the best healing experiences I have had the pleasure to indulge myself in. I give Lake…
Lake: 9.5/10- An amazing indie story that won’t please everyone but will be a superb memory for those this game clicks with.
Thank you so much for reading. If you are in a difficult mental position at the moment and are seeking something to dive into for just a few hours of distraction, as hard as that can be, this game truly gets my highest recommendation. I’ve been Benjamin Wagner and I endorse this message.
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