It’s been a long while since I was last in Providence Oaks. Too long. It’s the town found in Lake, and one I thoroughly enjoyed exploring back in April when I previewed the game’s demo. Since that preview, I’ve thought of nothing but returning. I’ve longed to hop in the rattly van and deliver mail all across the sleepy lakeside town. Fortunately, the wait is finally over. I’ve had my two-week vacation in Providence Oaks, met its colourful cast of residents, and delivered all the mail I could. I’ve taken part in a photo competition, saved a cat from eating too many cupcakes, read a thrilling romance novel, saved a forest from corporate greed, stuck it to my boss and even fallen in love. Lake has truly been one of the most memorable and fulfilling experiences of my life, and one deserving of the title: indie game of the year.
“It is a truly remarkable achievement on behalf of the developers to bring such a captivatingly moving world to life.”
From the sun-soaked streets to the cascading waterfalls tucked behind the creaky cabin, Lake is undeniably beautiful. Dense foliage lines the cobbly incline beside the glistening lake. The sun rises from behind the staggeringly spectacular snow-capped mountains. Light breaks through the tree branches as the wind sweeps in from across the shore gently shaking the windows of the sleeping town. The blisteringly bright sun washes the streets with an orange glow as cars begin rattling to life before the hazy horizon.
I feel as if all these fancy descriptions still fail to do Lake’s astoundingly gorgeous visual style any justice. Fortunately, I’ve packed as many screenshots as I can into this review to give people a glimpse into its wondrously heavenly world. This is truly one of the most magnificent looking games I’ve had the pleasure to experience. While Lake would still have been an outstanding title without its unbelievable visual style, it certainly helps to immerse oneself into the world of Providence Oaks.
Fortunately, there is not only overwhelming beauty to be found in the general world of Lake, but also in its minute details. Plenty of the smaller details scattered across the world help to truly bring it to life. Additionally, Lake is packed with pedestrians, roaming cars and wildlife to help make it feel more substantial and ultimately alive. It is a truly remarkable achievement on behalf of the developers to bring such a captivatingly moving world to life.
“Lake’s gameplay ensures that the story is constantly moving, while also managing to be immensely fun in its own right.”
Fortunately, Lake’s gameplay is just as great as its visuals. What makes it so perfect is how it is ultimately supplemental to the narrative. That’s not to say that it isn’t brilliant in its own right. Far from it. In fact, it is Lake’s gameplay that affords its wholesome atmosphere. Rather, similar to Death Stranding, you’ll often find that narrative and gameplay are perfectly intermingled with one another.
For example, bringing a letter or parcel to Mildred will then draw you into a story all about her cupcake-fed cat and its urgent need of absolutely no more cupcakes. Seriously, don’t feed your cat cupcakes. You may receive a letter intended for a campsite on the other side of the lake. This of course encourages exploration while also having you meet two new characters who are overly happy about singing rather awful songs.
The game never forces you to undergo long sections of gameplay only to then burden you with long sections of story. Instead, it perfectly weaves the two together to create a beautiful harmony. Essentially, the gameplay ensures that the story is constantly moving, while also managing to be immensely fun in its own right.
Additionally, I found Lake’s map to be the perfect size for the gameplay on offer. It’s neither so large that you constantly lose your way nor too small that you feel constricted. There’s enough here for the player to explore and uncover while being just small enough that you quickly become accustomed to it. It’s simply perfect for a game all about delivering mail.
“The writing team managed to make every story beat, character interaction and relationship development feel significant and important.”
Despite Lake’s overall wholesome nature, it still manages to pack a hefty amount of heartwarming sincerity and genuinely moving moments throughout its expertly crafted narrative. The writing team over at Gamious are mind-bogglingly talented and astoundingly brilliant. The world and characters they have crafted coalesce to create a phenomenally poignant yet hopeful narrative.
They weave together so many struggles and desires into a cast of characters so incredibly endearing I was heartbroken when I had to leave them. They have not only managed to craft characters that feel alive and real but also perfected the feeling of community. Frankly, the hardest part of finishing Lake is that when I inevitably return, no one will remember me.
The themes of loss and ambition, life and love, home and family and ultimately that of the world moving on without you are handled expertly here. While my time with Lake was relatively short – lasting just under 7 hours – the writing team have still managed to make every story beat, character interaction and relationship development feel significant and important. No tale is left untold and everything has a satisfying conclusion.
There were stories I feared would have been forgotten. Perhaps I had started them too late and their resolutions wouldn’t trigger before the game came to a close? But each and every time I thought of something that needed wrapping up, the writers would come through with a heartwarming conclusion that made me smile. Lake’s overarching narrative, individual stories and overall writing are so perfect that I couldn’t put it down.
“While I always make sure to pay particular attention to a voice actors’ performance in video games, those found in Lake were spectacularly noteworthy.”
Fortunately, this brilliant writing is not let down by poor voice acting. In fact, I felt that the entire cast of Lake did a fantastic job. Karyn O’Bryant managed to make Meredith not only feel like a well-mannered, exceptionally polite and endearing person, but also someone who was genuinely conflicted, passionately in love and had perhaps finally found true contentment. The ability to capture all of that in a performance is a true art I wholeheartedly respect.
Cassie Ewulu was another standout performance as Kay. Her charmingly frantic tirades never felt out of place or forced. The bond between her and Meredith, both broken and repaired, was truly felt. Whenever she appeared on screen I found myself lost within her performance, hanging on to every word, emotion and aspiration. While I always make sure to pay particular attention to a voice actors’ performance in video games, those found in Lake were spectacularly noteworthy.
“Both romance options are equally as viable as the other, and both have fully fleshed out narratives surrounding them.”
Lake also has romance options, which I felt particularly pertinent to mention because they’re absolutely incredible. Once again, the writing team at Gamious have proven their insanely talented writing prowess and crafted genuinely affecting romances. Furthermore, not only is it great to see LGBTQ+ representation within Lake, but it is also refreshing to have it feel like a completely natural component of a game’s world and narrative.
There are two love interests for Meredith to choose between. The first is a wide-eyed and rosy-cheeked video store owner whose love of ’80s cinema won me over instantly. Despite being a bit of a hipster, I never found her to be grating, but instead incredibly endearing. The other is a well-mannered and jolly lumberjack who loves the great outdoors and awkwardly stumbling over his words. He has a heart of gold and feels like the antidote to Meredith’s feelings of being a fish-out-of-water.
Both are equally as viable as the other, and both have fully fleshed out narratives surrounding them. While Angie’s offers more gameplay focused quests, they each get just about as much screentime. Additionally, I just wanted to praise the fact that either love interest can be let down gently. It just helped keep the game feeling wholesome, and allowed me to continue roleplaying as a good person.
“I have the utmost faith in the developers to iron out any bugs.”
Amazingly, I only encountered two bugs during my stay in Providence Oaks. The first was when I got stuck in a gap between the postal office and a chainlink fence. I’m willing to chalk that one up to having had one too many blueberry pies that day. The other, which admittedly was slightly more annoying, was when the radio refused to stop. Unfortunately, to make matters worse, the ambient soundtrack eventually gave up. It was simply unwilling to compete with the beautiful country tunes blasting over the van radio.
Fortunately, both of these were resolvable by simply saving and restarting. I can understand that that may seem like a pain. However, not only do I have the utmost faith in the developers to iron out these issues, but I also never really felt like they detracted from the overall quality and immersive atmosphere of Lake. It also didn’t hurt matters that the radio tunes are so much fun to listen to.
“I’m more than willing to overlook any issues considering how incredibly extraordinary my time with Lake was.”
My only other issue with Lake lies in its endings. It isn’t that they’re bad. In fact, I feel that they do a phenomenal job of tying up all the loose ends. Instead, it is merely that I felt a few choices were are at odds with one another. Without spoiling anything, opting to pick a certain ending while choosing to stay with a certain romantic partner will see you do two vastly opposing things. However, once again I didn’t really feel as if it were detrimental to my overall experience. It really only affects the last few moments of the game, and I found it easy enough to concoct rationalisations to excuse this mishap.
Consequently, one would imagine that I’d dock Lake’s overall score due to these inconsistencies. However, I’m rather hesitant to do so. Neither of these issues impacted my experience in a significant way. They didn’t detract from the phenomenal writing, engaging gameplay or incredible visuals. They were minor qualms that I hastily overcame. If they seem like they’d be frustrating to you, then by all means dock a point from the score. But frankly, I’m more than willing to overlook them considering how incredibly extraordinary my time with Lake was.
“Lake truly is the indie game of the year. Maybe even of all time.”
I find a telling sign that you genuinely love a piece of media is your reaction to it when it ends. When it came to finishing the final season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer I found myself unable to watch the last episode for a whole two years. When Lost came to an end, I toasted to its immeasurable effect on my life with a knock-off Fanta dressed up to look like a Dharma beer. As the credits began to roll on Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I genuinely wept.
When Lake finished I sat speechlessly still for a while. The sun began to fall in the distance, and the birds had all seemingly flown away. As the sun’s orange glow slowly drifted across my face, my mind raced with all the memories I had made in Providence Oaks. Eventually, I composed myself, opened this document and tried to write. For a moment my finger trembled over the keyboard. A deep pit had formed in my stomach, and my heart felt empty. My finger remained still for a moment longer, before all of this came pouring out.
I really miss Lake. A lot. The temptation to reopen it and start all over again is overwhelming, to say the least. I want to be back in that sleepy town delivering mail to its wonderful inhabitants. I want to play arcade games and eat blueberry pie until the sun goes down. Alas, for now, I’m stuck in reality, moving onto the next game. Fortunately, all of you out there are still yet to enjoy this incredible masterpiece. So, I implore you. Go out and buy it. Lake is truly the indie game of the year. Maybe even of all time.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.