A serene mail simulator on the surface, but is this more FedEx or Postman Pat?

Narrative, story-driven games are right up my street at the minute, so when I saw the release trailer for Lake I was all in – the beautiful scenery, the interesting story, the fact you get to drive a post van – what more could you want?  Well, quite a lot it turns out.

The game revolves around Meredith, a 44-year-old MIT graduate (that’s on a par with Oxbridge for us Brits) who left the small town for the big city 22 years ago, and  has agreed to do her father a favour and cover some shifts at the local post office back in her hometown of Providence Oaks.

Meredith has agreed to cover her dad’s postal route for two-weeks while her parents take a trip to Florida – nothing quite like escaping when the child is making a long overdue trip home, particularly when they decide not to come back!

Your first task is learning the basic controls of the van and how to deliver letters and parcels, and it never gets any more complex. There is nothing groundbreaking here – accelerate, brake, and get out of the van are your only options, with the only ounce of excitement being the shapes of the parcels in the back of the van.

“think Postman Pat pre the helicopter and all the other bells and whistles that he has at his disposal these days”

The gameplay loop in Lake is incredibly uninspiring. You deliver a few letters in the morning, meeting some of the residents along the way, return to the post office to end your working day, have a few telephone conversations or maybe even a date in the evening through a few cutscenes, and repeat.

Much of the beginning of the game is spent waiting for the drama to kick-in. There are some local disputes and scandals, but it only ever gets as wild as the local crazy cat lady needing someone to look after her cats so she can get to the hairdresser.  Once you accept that the drama isn’t coming, you can enjoy this game for what it is: a serene adventure where Meredith reassesses her life choices during a much needed change of pace, away from the crazy software industry that she is used to.

The story focuses on a small cast of characters: the old school estranged school friend, the local lumberjack, the local farmer, the video shop owner, and a couple of hippies. Meredith builds or rekindles some form of relationship with these characters, which unsurprisingly leads up to the key choice in the game of whether she stays in Providence Oaks, returns to the city, or becomes a free spirit and rides off into the distance in a Winnebago.

It’s clear that this game has been developed on a budget, and where the focus has been.  Providence Oaks itself is beautiful, with stunning vistas, quaint houses, and some lovely weather effects thrown in for good measure..  For me though, this has come at a price.

Given that most of your time is spent getting in and out of the post van, a bit of the budget could have been spent animating this sequence. The screen simply fades during this transition, and for me it really affected the flow of the game – I got annoyed every time that I saw that black screen, even if it was just for a second or two.  

The soundtrack is just as disappointing. The music available is nice and fitting, however, there simply isn’t enough of it.  The same few songs are played repeatedly, and as you spend most of your time listening to them on the radio in the van, this was a real shame. The story tries to gloss over this fact by highlighting that the local DJ is also the farmer who tried to be a jack of all trades.  There are some other nice touches reflective of the mid-80s, with the VHS store being filled with some lovely homages to the big films of the period such as Ghostbusters, The Godfather, and Back to the Future.

Overall, I think they missed a trick with the title here – Postman Simulator 1986 would have been much more fitting; think Postman Pat pre the helicopter and all the other bells and whistles that he has at his disposal these days. Even then I’d say life is a bit more explosive in Greendale. If you take Lake at face value, it’s an enjoyable, serene experience with a pleasing narrative – just don’t expect there to be much lying beneath.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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