It's fair to call Lake the sleeper hit of the Guerrilla Collective Showcase. A game by a tiny developer in the Netherlands called Gamious, it's a loveable-looking adventure game about delivering mail in a small rural Oregon town.
Lake has you playing the role of Meredith Weiss, a 40-something office worker from the big city, who's decided to take a break from modern civilization at large and revisit her hometown. She drives a mail van around the lush lakes, forests, and the sole village in Gamious' story, delivering mail and generally engaging with the small rural population of the central town.
It's supposed to be a peaceful, almost meditative adventure. So of course playtesters are already finding ways to drive Meredith's truck into a lake.
"We know from experience at conventions that some players will drive the van straight into the lake the moment they get their hands on the controller," Lake designer Bouman tells USgamer.
It's an odd way to approach a game that's ostensibly supposed to be relaxing, but Bouman says he doesn't blame them. After all, it's just human nature to want to test the limits of the possible in any virtual scenario in which you're placed. I remember testing how far I could fall before I broke my ankles in Fallout 3, for example.
"But we're experimenting with an auto-brake system at the moment, so it will probably not be possible to run people over," Bouman reassures me, and the general population of Lake. "And once players have that out of their system, we hope they will come to terms with, and appreciate the peaceful nature of the game," he continues.
Apart from the unexpected similarities to Grand Theft Auto, plenty of players have drawn comparisons to Death Stranding, which coincidentally arrives on PC today. On the surface the two games couldn't look more different: one stars Norman Reedus adventuring around a post-apocalyptic landscape throwing grenades filled with his own urine at ghosts. The other stars a middle-aged postwoman going about her life in picturesque rural Oregon, journeying the vast landscape in her trusty mail van.
But they do both revolve around delivering mail. "The similarities are of course obvious. When Death Stranding was announced, we were quite surprised about it as well," Bouman says. "A first association with the comparison is one of 'not being original.' But when you think about it, it probably means the contrary. We had the same with Turmoil, where people said it was just like an existing oil-drilling game that we didn't know about. But when you zoom in on the gameplay, they're totally incomparable. I guess it happens when there aren't enough games to establish a certain genre."
Even though Bouman hasn't played Death Stranding, he's confident that "Lake will be a very different experience," and a more lighthearted lighthearted one at that. "Delivering parcels will be much less of a hassle," he says. "Perhaps Death Stranding has validated the concept of a story based around delivery. That can be a good thing for us, as it might make players less hesitant to give Lake a try."
It helps that Lake takes place among the lush greenery of the Pacific Northwest, as opposed to the mostly barren deserts and snowy mountains of Death Stranding. Gamious co-founder and Lake designer Jos Bouman tells me that after game director Dylan Nagel sold Gamious on doing Lake with "nothing more than a picture of a car driving next to a beautiful lake," with Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana all being considered at various points for the setting.
It was Oregon that they eventually fell for. "We fell in love with Oregon's lush forests and imposing mountains. Dylan Nagel has also been to Oregon for a while, Bouman says, of when the now-game director had an internship with a developer based in the state. "And what maybe also secretly played a part is that he's a die-hard Transformers fan. In the original story, the Transformers crash into Mount St. Helens in 1984… which is super close to Portland, Oregon."
I've never been to Oregon, or anywhere close to the Pacific Northwest of the US, but it's easy to see how Gamious was sold on setting Lake in Oregon. With seemingly endless forests, mountains, and lakes stretching on beyond the horizon, it's the perfect counterpoint to protagonist Meredith's former city-slicking lifestyle.
It all adds up to a game that overwhelms with pure curiosity. Lake has drawn me - any many others - in with the promise of a chill game about delivering mail. Now off the back of this hook I just want to know more and more about this game, like why Meredith left her job in the city, or how she's going to deal with being back in her hometown. I can't wait to explore the lush surroundings of rural Oregon in a mail van, and the added mystery of sorts around the story and protagonist only add to the appeal of Lake.
Lake currently has a release window of Q4 2020, on current-gen consoles and PC. "To be honest, it will probably end up releasing early 2021. But that's because there's still a lot of work to do," says Bouman, undeterred by the thought of releasing around the launches of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. "We feel that Lake should be able to find its audience, regardless of which platforms are popular at the time."
Perhaps proving the point, Lake was revealed to the world in a landslide of additional indie games, and it's undoubtedly one of the games that had the most traction on Twitter and among USgamer staff after the events of the weekend were done. There's still many months on the road to Lake's launch, but I'm absolutely looking forward to its arrival.