Last week, I started playing Lake. Lake is a wholesome, cinematic choose your own adventure.
Here’s the description from publisher (Whitethorn Games) and developer (Gamious):
“It’s September 1, 1986. You take on the role of forty-something Meredith Weiss, who returns from the big city to her quiet hometown. She exchanges her busy career at a software company to fill in for her dad, the local mail carrier. During her two-week stay in beautiful Providence Oaks, Oregon, she runs into a few familiar faces as well as plenty of new folks. As Meredith, you get to decide who to talk to, who to befriend and perhaps even start a romantic relationship with.
Whatever happens, at the end of her stint she’ll have to make up her mind: return to her demanding job in the big city, or stay in the town she grew up in?”from Whitethorn Games, Gamious
I’m not quite done with the story, but after playing through most of it, I now see there are two ways to play this game. (1) You can be a fly on the wall in this small town. Delivering the mail and quietly observing the townsfolk. The second option (2) is to play like an undercover detective by listening and taking notes. Try to figure out what’s really going on in this small town.
Lake sort of takes me back to playing Firewatch a few years ago. I was hoping to uncover some big mystery or conspiracy that just wasn’t there. I loved playing Firewatch, and it was one of the first games I remember expecting some big “video game ass disaster” to happen, but it never did.
Playing as a mail carrier is a wonderful tool to give your main character a reason to talk to anyone and everyone around town. In Lake, you meet all kinds of colorful characters from Miss Jenkins (the Cat Lady) to Jack Reynolds (the Farmer/DJ). There are even a couple of love interests for Meredith in Providence Oaks. You’re in control of Meredith’s dialogue choices, and ultimately the final outcome of her story.
Playing the Game
Most days start off the same. You drive around and deliver mail and packages. By nighttime, it’s time to relax. Meredith may have a quick call with her mom and dad on vacation in Florida, or her software co-worker, Steve. Nights begin relatively quiet, but depending on your chats throughout the day you may find something exciting to do.
Driving around delivering mail sort of feels like playing a Grand Theft Auto game, except you’re not doing anything illegal or hurting anyone. The streets in Providence Oaks are lawless though. I remember slowing down at the sight of a police car. I started off trying to follow the rules of the road. Later on, I drove straight into another car and nothing happened — no damage, no complaints — the car just drove off.
Lake is the most wholesome version of a Grand Theft Auto game, where instead of trying to break every law, you’re just attempting to do your job — the right way. There are some shady side deals going on about town, but nothing that would get you into any big trouble. These were more of doing favors for the townsfolk, and you can always say NO. I said YES to every request, just to give me more to do, but there’s no reward for completing these tasks, so if I don’t get to it that’s their problem.
The mail delivery part of the game also gave me some Crazy Taxi vibes, but with no timer or actually “craziness.” So maybe more of a Tame Taxi game.
As I stated before there are two ways to play Lake, and I chose the “detective style.” I spent every conversation thinking, What is this person hiding? What’s really going on in this town? Is the mafia trying to tear down Robert the Lumberjack’s property to build a casino? What’s this cat lady, Miss Jenkins, really trying to say? And, what the hell is up with Mo’s Diner? — those were all thoughts that went through my head while playing through Lake.
In the end, I found out that nothing crazy was going on in this town. At least not yet. It’s just a town with normal, mostly lazy people who want to make the mail delivery person do all of their tasks for them. It’s not enough that I bring you the mail and packages every day? Now I need to do extra work for you? Do you even pay me?
My favorite part of Lake was exploring the video store for all of the fake movie posters and VHS tapes. The general store also featured some fake brands. I found it a bit strange that during conversations, the characters referenced real movies from the time. It would have been funnier to go all out, and instead of saying, “I want to watch Big Trouble in Little China,” they could have gone with, “Let’s watch Small Order in Large Brazil.”
If you’re going to go with fake movie titles — The Maze (Labyrinth), The Bee (The Fly), The Stony Thriller Photo Display (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Ghostblasters (Ghostbusters) and Blade Jogger (Blade Runner) — I’d suggest going all the way. It must have been a fun job to create all of these movie posters, names and even fake actor and director names.
There was a time, not too long ago, where many TV shows, movies and games were all trying way too hard to fill in their stories with a quota of queer characters. At first, it was sort of a “Look at us and our gay character! Please somebody write about this.”
Today, we’re in a stronger place where it’s just a thing in games, or even a choice for the player to make. Does your female character want to date the male or female love interest? And, it goes much further than that in many games.
The reason I know we’ve come much further in games today is that they don’t call it out. It just happens. Instead of “being the story” it’s just part of the story. In Lake, you can choose for Meredith to flirt more with Angie (Video Store Owner) or Robert (Lumberjack). There may be more to choose from, but those are the two I had Meredith flirt with.
It’s great to see the inclusion of all sorts of races, genders, sexual orientation in many different games today. As the son of Cuban immigrants, it’s always exciting to see Hispanic characters that I’m playing or watching. Still, I don’t want the character to be introduced like, “This is Hector, my Hispanic friend!” Instead, I want Hector to just be doing his own thing, and I may or may not recognize that he is Hispanic, just like in real life.
Not all games are meant to keep you on the edge of your seat. Every game doesn’t have to be a shooter or some big blockbuster. Some games are small puzzle games, some games don’t even have a story at all. Lake is a full-on choose your adventure story game.
In recent years, I’ve loved these short, story-driven adventures. They have been great palate cleansers between big AAA and even smaller indie titles with intense stories or gameplay. Sometimes a true to life, mundane story is just what you need.
Lake is out now on PlayStation and Xbox consoles, PC and Nintendo Switch.
*myVGBC.com was given a review code for Lake by the publisher, Whitethorn Games.