Lake is the Best of Death Stranding Without the Nonsense
Lake, the upcoming adventure game from Gamious, is somehow not the first to cast players in the unexpected role of a mail carrier traveling the land and interacting with their community. But it's so far my favorite of this apparently emerging niche.
Death Stranding, the game that has widely popularized this new subgenre, is a polarizing experience. Some decry it as Kojima's misguided passion project, while others consider it an instant classic. Personally, I land closer to the first group, but I still fondly recall some of the game's good parts: the quiet moments when it's just you, the terrain, and a stellar soundtrack that invites an uncommon meditative experience AAA games rarely provide.
Lake rebottles all of that same magic without veering into sci-fi gunplay and hour-long monologues. It's a much more grounded experience that confidently leans on an odd but surprisingly intoxicating gameplay loop of delivering mail and taking a breather.
In Lake, players assume the role of Meredith Weiss in 1986 Oregon. Weiss has just moved back from the city to slow things down and fill her dad's shoes as the local post office mail carrier. She's been away for many years, so while some remember her as a child long absent from the town of Providence Oaks, others don't know her at all. It's said that the full game will let players live out three weeks of Meredith's respite in the mountain town, and the demo already gives players access to those first few days.
It only took one for me to know my pre-demo excitement was warranted.
Getting some on-the-job training from a seasoned employee acts as the game's tutorial before it sets you off on your first day of work. I had both paper mail and bulkier boxes to deliver, with a simple map system keeping me aware of where I was and where I needed to go. There seemed to be neither timers nor any way to deliver the wrong mail to an address. Lake isn't about gamifying the delivery process. It's more about Meredith, her past, her future, and perhaps most of all, her present.
Driving the mail truck, listening to the radio, and soaking in the serenity of the day gave me the same feeling I get when I go for bike rides during Portland's quieter hours. Sometimes I'll turn off my music or podcast and just soak in the stillness. In Lake, that same stillness is present and irresistible. Meredith seems to need the timeout, and amid the unstoppable rush of regular life duties and a relentless games calendar, I appreciate the deliberate pacing of Lake myself.
One of the best parts about Lake so far is its welcoming nature to those who like to role-play their characters. Some Grand Theft Auto players, for example, forego the madness and violence to instead abide by traffic laws, park safely, and so on. In Lake, that's encouraged even more, of course, and you can really put yourself in the time and place when you play it that way.
Sure, I could speed off on the wrong side of the road in my mail truck, but the dissonance between that and who Meredith seems to be would make no sense. Instead, it was much more enjoyable to slow the truck to a stop, walk to the back, and pull out the right package for delivery. Just like a real mail carrier.
With each delivery, you get to meet residents of the quiet town, and as you learn about them, you also start to learn a lot about Meredith. I can sense there is a deeper story waiting to be told in Lake, but to be honest, I checked out of the demo before it forced me out because I knew I was enjoying it so much and wanted to keep the rest fresh for the full experience.
Death Stranding showed me there is an unexpected appeal in a game about traveling and delivering mail, but for me, it's an experience bogged down by many of the usual Kojima touchstones: long diatribes, combat I didn't ask for, and a convoluted world difficult to connect with.
Lake takes the best parts of Death Stranding — its tranquility and its stories of human connection — and puts them in a setting still unique but now tangible, and it features characters still compelling but now lifelike.
Lake looks like it will be a welcome pause in a hectic year, and though I suspect its story will eventually unveil its own tumult to sort through, I've really enjoyed the peaceful vibes it's delivered so far.