Welcome back to Providence Oaks. We’ve been here before in the Lake preview during the Steam Next Fest, and now it’s with great pleasure to return to the sticks with Meredith for a low-key working holiday delivering goods.
Meredith does zero elemental damage, her permadeath – which does not feature in the game, is the same for anybody else and final (unless they’re a warlock), and she doesn’t save the day whatsoever. Unless you consider fixing a poorly feline for the local cat lady.
Hardly memorable for a protagonist in gaming, right? Wrong. Meredith is as charming in the full game as she was in the demo. Naturally, the demo is a snippet of the game that was in progress, and it’s doubtful that she’d have had a character realignment of any sort. She’s the same old Meredith, non-judgemental (depending on your choices), and almost as carefree as Winnie-the-Pooh.
Lake is Meredith’s story and her encounters with the locals she meets and greets while doing a two-week delivery shift for her father while he goes on holiday. A successful computer programmer, she leaves behind the city life, reconnecting with those in her hometown. It’s a place where everybody knows everybody’s business and seldom venture out of their tight-knit community.
But before the scent of conspiracies, sci-fi plots or casual car theft and hit and runs grow in that little ol’ imagination bank, Lake is void of all that and uneventful, but in a good way. Think of it as Meredith’s little getaway, a bit similar to Alan Wake, but without all the drama.
Over a fortnight, Meredith will complete a handful of delivery runs consisting of mail and the odd parcel. She’ll finish her rounds in an allocated delivery van, circumnavigating the lake of the title. A mini-map shows up on the screen with the locations of your drops, as well as any optional stories, your home, and the postal office to return to after the shift.
A Hop, Skip But No Jump
Despite weather effects and the sky announce the different times of the day, there’s no time limit for your duties. You can deliver to whomever you wish, in whichever order – just as long as it’s done. There’ll be opportunities to chinwag with the locals, possibly taking on a side objective by helping them out with something, but it’s all at a comfortable pace and entirely up to you how you wish to proceed.
A large portion of Lake is driving around, listening to country music. I’m not a fan whatsoever, but there’s something cheery and therapeutic about listening to it while driving, and it is just the kind of escapism I look for in a game. A little behind with other outlets for the review, I did manage to see an almost unanimous critique about how slow Meredith moves between deliveries when on foot. It’s either a comfortable walk or one of those paces that looks like you’re in a hurry but not applying yourself.
Parking quite close to the delivery points isn’t hard, so that transition between deliveries to a mailbox or person really isn’t an issue. Lake is not an action game. I’m not entirely sure who the target audience is, but I absolutely love this. While I equally enjoy killing every NPC possible in the latest PS+ Hitman 2, totalling opponents in Wreckfest, or dumping on bystanders from a great height, I find the setting here so incredibly indulgent – like a chill game, but with an engaging narrative.
A Human Story, For Humans
The key point in Gamious‘ game is the interactions with NPCs. A bit like a Telltale title, there are several dialogue paths to take when speaking with your fellow residents. Often it’s small talk, reminiscing for the sake of it, and other authentic conversations we all have, where if we look at it objectively, they’re pretty pointless a lot of the time. But that’s what makes Lake so pleasant on my part as it’s a slice of life, minus the dramas.
Everything in the game is voice acted, and as I’ve said before, Meredith is brilliant. She has mum-like qualities to her and this young go-getter attitude like she’s up for anything. Hell, if some car thefts were going on, Hitman-like contracts or diving deep into the lake for missing treasure, she has that can-do attitude to get involved. It just doesn’t happen. I do get why this might put people off.
Lake is incredibly slow – from the sloth-like smashing into a tree at 5mph to the actual conversations where you wonder where it’s going. From a gamer perspective, the speed of her walking has got everybody talking. I think that lack of urgency is the point. The town is pretty small but big enough to get lost in it with your own thoughts. That chilled escapism derives from the era (1986): no cellphones, no internet, just old-fashioned human interaction, balls-deep in nature.
If you’re the type who likes to stray from the main quests and go look at the water, shelter under a tree and watch the world go past, then perhaps Lake might be for you. Do bear in mind that technically, it’s not mind-blowing, and the actual water in the lake itself is a little bit of a letdown. However, upping the resolution to 1440p and ultra settings (if you can), resolved all the visual beefs. But as I’ve pulled over (in the game) to finish writing this up – causing a tailback without a single horn pressed or the cops doing anything. I look at the trees, listen to the tunes and forget where I’ve placed my own phone.
That’s what Lake is for me: I forget my surroundings for a bit and engage in the community without any fears, worries, or melodrama. If that’s not something you’re seeking, fine, but if you want to question your sanity and gush over a computer game character that doesn’t wear hot pants, have a ridiculous bust and grunt as if playing a tennis game, give Meredith a chance. She’s a fantastic listener but needs to work on her film knowledge.