Video games are increasingly becoming an ideal medium to deliver interactive story experiences; at times even without the demands of intensive gameplay. Lake by developer Gamious is a leisurely narrative adventure game; one which tells a simple yet memorable story without any of the dramatic bells and whistles of something like Life is Strange. It may not be one of the biggest adventure games of the year, nor is it necessarily must-have, but Lake is a welcome release in the busy Xbox release schedule for anyone wanting a game that literally feels like a respite.
One thing to get out of the way, Lake feels quite unfinished at the time of this review. While the style is effective, it lacks graphical polish in terms of texture mapping, basic effects such as the shadows and cumbersome menu transitions. There are plenty of other bugs and glitches during gameplay too. They’re not a deal breaker by any stretch, even when occasionally you’re forced to reload an earlier part of the game due to a collision glitch. Perhaps these can be addressed in time, but as a whole the experience holds up and hopefully most of the aforementioned issues are fixable.
Lake takes place in the sleepy, picturesque town of Providence Oaks during 1986. As you can guess from the game’s title, it has a scenic lake with a great view. It follows Meredith Weiss, as she makes a short two week visit to help fill in for her dad while he goes on holiday. Mr. Weiss just so happens to be in the postal service, and so Meredith takes a break from her usual competitive IT career for a more relaxed work routine. The game’s premise and setup feels like Postman Pat meets Gilmore Girls, and it all comes together rather charmingly.
As Meredith, players make the rounds as they complete their postal run, and it’s easy enough to go ahead with that, a bit like the delivery missions of Grand Theft Auto, but with none of the violence of course. Funnily enough, she doesn’t actually need to observe any road or traffic rules when completing deliveries. It’s a pretty straightforward task, and for larger parcels she simply needs to pick up the correct package from the back of the van. The town itself is thoughtfully designed with suburban locations, farmlands, hilltop venues, and more rugged areas too (careful where you park!).
The postal delivery gameplay loop simply serves as the filler to what is essentially a narrative adventure game. It’s less about the parcels and more about how Meredith interacts with the residents of Providence Oaks. These interactions can range from small talk to more meaningful encounters as Meredith chats to familiar faces that she hasn’t been in touch with for over two decades. These can range from heartfelt reunions to slightly more awkward moments of breaking the ice. And of course, she meets new folk which may lead to something special.
What’s interesting about Lake is that it doesn’t force you to get into all the drama. Meredith’s two-week stint can be as uneventful as you’d like it to be, where you can simply decline plans or choose to not pry further into the personal matters of the residents. Occasionally residents will ask for favours, but you can turn these down especially if they go against postal service protocol. The point is, you can choose to simply do your job as a postal worker and spend uneventful evenings at home reading or watching television. It’s a slow burn narrative where the player has surprisingly more choice in terms of how they relate with the game world.
It’s a simple story, and while occasionally there is drama, the balance of the world isn’t at stake here like it was in Life is Strange. At worst, you may offend some people or simply not validate their problems, and just as Meredith is helping cover for her father, she constantly gets phone calls from her work regarding a huge contract. Working in IT, it’s cool to see an early nostalgic piece of technology and how Meredith uses it to blog about her life. How her two-week stay pans out, and how she deals with her feelings about her hometown and her demanding career, are the moments where the player really gets involved.
What really shines about the experience is the artistic presentation which, despite the graphical issues, manages to present a picturesque town that shines with quaint beauty. The music in particular brings it all together, with acoustic background music and even a radio station playing some country tunes. The soundtrack isn’t enormous by any means, but there is enough here to create a charming vibe and atmosphere, especially when the right song hits during a sun-kissed drive. The rest of the sound design is decent too, with fully voiced characters to bring personality into the small-town banter.
Lake on Xbox is a charming and refreshingly slow narrative adventure. Although your time in Providence Oaks is over before you know it, it offers what is perhaps a rare and much needed downtime in gaming. While there are some graphical and technical issues present, the experience as a whole succeeds in delivering its humble and largely inconsequential narrative, yet one where choices made actually have real consequence. Lake is about creating simple quaint moments, rather than trying to be grandiose like all the other adventure games out there.
Take a trip to Lake by visiting the Xbox Store