Lake: Season’s Greetings (XS)

Lake: Season's Greetings (XS)

Lee Mehr
, posted 2 hours ago / 258 Views

Not too far into this expansion, we hear the US postal service’s motto recited before getting to work: neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”  In Thomas Weiss’ advanced age, plus with nagging arthritis, it’s not easy to stay true to that deep into December; and yet, holiday deliveries must be made.  Despite the festive seasonal change, Season’s Greetings maintains the original’s delivery-sim foundation to the letter, for better or worse.  One corny fellow could also say Lake’s placid design has frozen over. 

Rewind six months prior to Lake, you’re now stepping into the veteran’s role to deliver mail and parcels.  Thomas’ routine is the mirror reflection of his daughter’s two-week tenure: collect mail, drive across Providence Oaks to make the appropriate delivery, socialize with the more prominent townspeople (many of which are returning members), return the delivery van, and make a few end-of-day dialogue choices – like when calling Meredith or deciding between watching TV or reading a book.  Its quaint and cozy lifestyle suits the small town’s atmosphere.

lake season shots 3
If you’re familiar with the original’s pleasant tone, it’s easy to follow the trajectory for certain low-stakes arcs.  One of the most repeated plot threads stems from a ruction over snack prices for a New Year’s Day event.  It’s extremely silly and inconsequential, but still foists Thomas as a vital intermediary to reach a sensible outcome (unless you decide to recuse yourself altogether).  It emulates a pastoral Leave it to Beaver vibe of this wizened postman doing the rounds and catching up with neighbors over the holidays.  The original’s thematic emphasis on assessing times gone by is doubled here by having you hang around elderly folks most often.

An unfortunate snag comes back to the nature of most prequels: pre-emptively knowing where people wind up in the future.  The vast majority of townspeople are returning characters, so little new can be established about them here.  There’s the dorky computer expert, goofy cat lady, cheeky waitress who owns the local diner, and other basic tropes that act as little more than primers for Meredith’s inevitable return.  Fresh faces like the local news trio add some spice, especially with what’s the closest thing to an antagonist seen yet.  While some personalities gel well with those additions, most of the time it feels like Thomas is spinning his wheels until the Florida vacation.

lake season shots 1
The promise of tall palm trees and sunshine establishes an immediate contrast to Providence Oaks’ winter wonderland.  There are still the same contained limits, but Gamious put in a solid effort capturing the idyllic small town during the holidays: a conveniently-fresh layer of snow each day, string lights shaped as reindeer adorning streetlamps, the frozen-over lake ready for ice fishing, and so on.  The original’s randomized animal activity is less frequent here – given the winter season – but a keen eye can still spot some surprises.  It’s all about capturing the warmer side of this chilly tundra, which is incredibly easy with Lake’s penchant soft-texture aesthetic.  Even static cutscenes can look fit for a postcard.

Several presentational ills have carried over along with the town.  Robotic facial animations that unintentionally evoke a Lynchian strangeness to everything diminish what’s obviously a low-budget Lifetime movie plot.  Even secondary elements like background audio & camera framing for dialogue-heavy portions seem so artificial; worst of all is when dialogue audio drops out completely for long stretches.  It’s a shame since most of the voice actors do a decent job, especially Troupe Grammage inhabiting Thomas’ salt-of-the-earth elder archetype, when I can actually hear them.  As of my last time playing (late December 2023), roughly 35% of all dialogue suffers from missing audio.  Granted, Gamious is a small indie team, but an error this flagrant reeks of unprofessionalism.

lake season shots 2
Recycled issues extend beyond technical errors too.  Like the original, the delivery systems haven’t grown in any real sense.  It’s still about managing the same routine, scootering around the same circuit, and listening to the same handful of radio tunes.  There are differences in deportment between Thomas and Meredith, like a unique animation of Thomas lifting his glasses to double-check if he’s holding the correct mail, but they’re so minor in the grand scheme.  What about adding small side-quests like an ice fishing mini-game or other distractions to expand upon the world?  Xeroxing Meredith’s day/evening routine feels thematically counterintuitive too; her being a shut-in after work mapped onto the story’s context, whereas Thomas is implied to be integral to the community.  There should’ve been more to reinforce that.

Those types of little things beyond the few impactful dialogue decisions would’ve improved engagement; hell, even mechanical baby steps like installing/removing tire chains to alter driving physics would’ve been neat.  While not wanting to appear presumptuous, none of these wishlist items seem to go beyond a $10 expansion’s scope – except for a straitened budget.  Even if the three-hour runtime hits your dollar-per-hour threshold, revisiting all of those potholes should give anyone pause.

lake season 3 1
While capturing a serene environment, Lake’s main shortcoming stems back to wanting to emulate a Zen-like gameplay routine without any sort of quality hook.  Season’s Greetings showcases Providence Oaks in a new season, but doesn’t think of adding much beyond this new coat of paint.  From the repetitive delivery routine to a flimsy narrative, it’s hard to blame anyone wanting to avoid this town during the holidays. 

Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee’s obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.

This review is based on a digital copy of Lake: Season’s Greetings for the XS, provided by the publisher.

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