I'll be the first to admit that I'm not very good at relaxing. After a busy day, it takes me a long time to unwind and get out of work mode to enjoy some downtime properly. So, when I come to play Lake, I'm pleasantly surprised by just how easily I fall into a soothing flow as I get used to the routine of my new mail delivery job. In this narrative adventure from developer Gamious, you play as Meredith – she's taking a break from her busy city job at software company Addit '87. Returning to her small and very picturesque hometown setting of Providence Oaks, Meredith takes up her father's role as the local mail carrier.
Taking place over the course of two weeks, each day sees you go about delivering parcels and letters to various addresses in your trusty mail truck. During your rounds, you'll encounter some of the local residents and steadily get to know them more and more as the days go on. Set in the '80s with plenty of nostalgic nods to the decade, everything feels so much slower and calmer. The way it lets you take everything at your pace just makes the experience of playing Lake such a relaxing delight, and it has quickly become one of my favorite games of 2021.
Back to the present
As a narrative adventure that revolves around delivering mail, you spend the majority of your time driving to different addresses. With a minimap that has markers to indicate the location of an address you need to go to, as well as symbols that show you whether it's a parcel or a letter that needs to be delivered, it's left up to you to decide where you go first, and you can take your time completing your route. When it comes to parcels, you can see the address of a street marked on the screen when you arrive at a delivery location, so you'll know which parcel from the back of your truck needs to be posted. When the workday ends, you also get to choose how you want to spend your evenings – whether that be reading a book, watching TV, or spending time with someone you made plans with during your rounds.
There is a cast of interesting characters who live in Providence Oaks, and it's left entirely up to you to decide how you want to respond in conversation with a variety of dialogue options. You also have the freedom to choose whether you want to rekindle old friendships or develop new ones, and there are also opportunities to form romantic relationships with some of the locals if you want to.
The way Lake allows you to steadily get to know people and form relationships feels entirely natural, and it really brings the experience of playing as Meredith to life. As a mail carrier, you're in this unique position where it makes sense for you to go out and meet people in the neighborhood. Since you return to the same addresses on different days, there are occasions where you'll once again encounter someone you've met before and continue to learn more about them. It's great that no conversation or activity is ever forced on you It's great that nothing is ever forced on you, and I love how much freedom I have to steer my own journey in Meredith's shoes.
Be kind, please rewind
My favorite place in Providence Oaks is easily the local video shop, known as the Flick Shack. It's such a treat to just spend a good chunk of my time in the store appreciating all of the spoof VHS tapes laid out on shelves, and piled up in sales bins. As a character with a love for film, I'm quickly drawn to the quirky Flick Shack shop owner Angie, who's one of the locals you can form a relationship with if you want to – be it friendship or romance. I jump at the chance to get to know her better throughout my two-week stint, and I even end up going on a very sweet movie date.
One of the most appealing things about Lake is just how well it captures a sense of time and place with locations such as the Flick Shack. As a '90s kid who just missed out on the decade, I became a big fan of '80s pop culture thanks to my dad, and Gamious brings the era to life with so much love and humor. From the fashion sense of the residents to the many music and movie references, it's hard not to be charmed. During quite a few of my encounters with the locals, I get so much joy from hearing them reference new '80s tech, talk about infamous events from the era, and even on one occasion get excited about the prospect of going to see Journey live in concert.
The setting and the decade also really lend themselves to the slower and more laid-back feel of Lake. As we now live in a time where we're always online, for the most part, it really can be hard to switch off, and there's something so inviting about the idea of returning to a time where there was no internet or mobile phones. Just as Meredith is getting away from her busy life in the city, I too get a little reprieve from my busy day-to-day, and in a lot of ways, my experience of playing almost mirrors Meredith's journey. If you're looking for a relaxing experience that's full of charm, look no further.
Lake is out now on Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC.