There's something weirdly comforting about repetitive jobs. We've all had one in some form, and the routine of it all can let your mind rest and go on autopilot. Now, some of them are truly horrible, and being a wage-slave is no form of "character building". But postal workers are clearly a different breed, their job being far from menial and of great societal importance, with plenty of surprise and variety possible each day - while somehow still getting all of those steps in.
In Lake, as Meredith Weiss, you have the help of your trusted delivery van to make the rounds. It's a third-person adventure narrative set at the end of the summer of 1986 in a leafy, sleepy village in Oregon, with, yep, a photogenic and peaceful lake at the centre of the community. Meredith, now in her 30s, is taking a short break from her busy city life by returning to her hometown for the first time in years. She's also decided to fill in her dad's postal service role while her parents are on a break of their own in Florida.
After meeting up with Frank, the local post office's manager, your first day begins. A handy clipboard and a friendly-sized map lets you know where the day's envelopes and parcels need to be. Driving around gives you the chance to soak up the serene and dream-like pocket-sized world you find yourself here in Providence Oaks. It also gives you a chance to meet some of the local residents, like the "crazy cat lady" Mildred Jenkins, who you're sure to bug in some way like I did by accident early on.
It's these small interactions that breathe great purpose into Meredith's short stay, slowly familiarising her with new faces like Robert, the lumberjack trying to stop the village from undergoing gentrification. There are plentiful dialogue choices available even during these small conversations you have with different people day in, day out. For example, one stop early on lands you at Kay's doorstep, your old best friend you lost contact with since your departure from the town years ago. After a frosty attempt at rekindling the bond, scenes explaining the backstory help Meredith reignite her old friendship.
The small details are great. There's a moment Meredith recognises two similar, hand-written envelopes being delivered to nearby houses as potential party invites, and others as the usual, unwanted utility bill. It mixes the mundanity of everyday life with the things that can turn an ordinary day into a special one.
I sometimes wished there were more moments of interaction during your job. For example, most parcel deliveries are left on the doorstep, with the bell being unanswered - a life in the postal service can be a lonely one, it turns out. However, driving around is helped by a small playlist of warm, inoffensive pop that's relayed by the local radio DJ and farmer Jack Reynolds.
Lake's story progresses each day as you keep bumping into the friendly characters. This can involve everything from sampling a new disposable camera for the town's general store, delivering a cat in need of aid and helping local residents sample movies from the video rental store. Lake's atmosphere is sublime throughout, helped by strong voice acting with Meredith being one of the more memorable, fully-fleshed out video game characters to arrive this year.
There are a couple of housekeeping points I should mention. I did stumble across a few bugs, such as meeting Robert immediately after starting the work day, or having the autopilot drive straight through houses. I'm aware this isn't Midtown Madness, and these are all being worked on by Gamious, and they're clearly working hard to make their first console game a success. The second is the game's high age rating. Apparently the mild use of weed (which, ironically, I'd actually forgotten was in the game) is too upsetting for Lake to even receive classification in Australia. There are also one or two scenes of adults drinking alcohol and, as for "strong language", I can remember one use of the f-bomb. What I'm basically saying is this game isn't going to shock any grandparents.
"Meredith is one of the more memorable, fully-fleshed out video game characters to arrive this year."
But these are all minor hindrances, and as some of the more serious story developments started after the halfway point I realised how unusually invested I was in the lives that make up this small community. Other minor revelations bring grounding weight, like her parents considering a relocation, or Meredith's boss calling her about the company's progress during her break, while there's the promise of more serious relationships blooming during your stay. However you play it, there's plenty to chew on as you decide your fate, whether to return to city life or stay in tranquil Providence Oaks. Lake may seem like a familiar tale of someone returning to their hometown after a long absence, but it's a game of fine detail and strong character, its modest scope infused with a great sense of purpose.
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