Release Date: September 1, 2021
Generally speaking, I like short games, and I like storytelling that’s not too heavy-handed, so Lake should be a perfect fit for me. How Long To Beat estimates you should be able to everything the game has to offer in less than 8 hours. Considering this game – at least the first hour of it – is super light on mechanics, I was surprised to find myself wishing it had less, rather than more.
The year is 1986. You play as Meredith Weiss, a computer programmer who is visiting her tiny hometown for the first time in 22 years – at least that’s the impression I get from the reaction of the townsfolk who I’ve met thus far. It seems like you’re doing a stint as a volunteer mail delivery driver, taking over for your dad who is on vacation. Casting aside the ludicrousness of this as a premise, it seems to be a pretty charming conceit.
Unfortunately, the majority of your game time is going to be spent driving your postal truck around. Sure, there’s interactions with the townsfolk, and some (mostly expository) time spent in the evenings, but mostly, you’re driving. In Lake, small town is an attitude more than a geographical reality – the houses are pretty spread out, and for me, the driving made what should be a very chill game kind of stressful. Sure, there doesn’t seem to be any real chance of hitting other cars or any kind of penalty for parking in the middle of the road, but I would have really loved some sort of autopilot mechanic, so that I could just watch the scenery go by and listen to the radio instead of worrying about keeping all my tires on my side of the road.
Now, this isn’t surprising, as I’m not a fan of driving in video games to begin with most of the time. While I appreciate that there’s a message here of how sometimes, it’s good to just slow down, I was finding myself wishing for any way at all to speed through the majority of the game play so I could get to story, and despite liking a lot of the game’s aesthetics, I knew I wasn’t going to to be able to power through the irritating parts of this one.
Edited to add: Apparently, you can “autopilot” via the map, or utilize fast travel. I didn’t notice either of these options in my time playing, but just knowing that it is possible is encouraging and might push me to revisit the game.
SteamDB estimates that Lake has sold between 42,000 and 115,600 copies on Steam. Thankfully, most players didn’t dislike driving a mail truck nearly as much as I did, and the reviews have been very positive overall, although even some of the recommended reviews include the word “tedious”. It is ranked 828 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.