Original and Updated
Year Walk is a first person horror puzzle game that was released by Simogo in 2013 for iOS devices and was updated for PC last month. Simogo describe the game updates as follows: “New locations, new puzzles, a map, updated art, integrated encyclopaedia, hint system, Steam Achievement puzzles … and more!” It’s a solid set of updates that add a new layer of challenge to the game, but the biggest win with the PC port is being able to play the game on a more sizeable screen, which really benefits the superb artwork and animation.
Into the Woods
The strength of Year Walk lies in its narrative (which I won’t spoil for you), its artwork, and its captivating environment. It’s a surreal walk through one man’s attempt to know his future – set in 19th century Sweden in the empty woods around your cabin, you play as a young man undergoing an often dangerous tradition, ‘year walking,’ in the hopes of knowing his future. The game takes place in first person, allowing you to view it through your own eyes without the comfort blanket of a physical character between you and your journey. You’re introduced to the game in the daylight, taking an ordinary walk to see a young woman who lives in a windmill and is implied to have a romantic history with you. Having this everyday introduction to the woods and their surroundings only makes their transformation that bit more uncomfortable.
Moving around what begins as fairly ordinary woods in the dark and snow without seeing another human character feels like trying to briskly out walk a nightmare, and as the trees become inhabited by more and more unsettling visions it becomes inescapable. The game is heavily influenced by Swedish folklore; that theme lends itself superbly to the eerie, almost fairy tale illustration art style, the haunting setting of the dead empty woods, and the paper marionette styling of the forest’s inhabitants.
The areas you play in are navigated by following set paths, using the arrows keys to move to a new screen – left and right or backwards and forwards. Objects can be interacted with or carried around with the mouse, and there’s a map available to you should you find yourself turned around. It’s a decent challenge in terms of actual gameplay; there are plenty of standalone points to remember or write down for later use, and no set of requirements for story progression is too explicit. There’s enough difficulty in the puzzles to allow you to really feel the disconnected helplessness of protagonist’s situation, but they’re not impossible. You shouldn’t find yourself frustrated and unable to continue. There is also a set of in-game tips you can access through the menu, revealing them one by one depending on how much help you need.
There’s a delightful blur between reality and fiction while you play. Everyday objects suddenly filling you with suspicion and dread, the sound of snowy footfalls as you move between scenes setting you inexplicably on edge. You find yourself paranoid, trying to remember whether this area was exactly the same the last time you were here. The combination of smooth snowfall and slightly unnatural, jerky animation in the characters, the mix of mundane and unexpected merging together in the woods, the ever-present eerie soundtrack against the unnatural silence of the woods – the entire aesthetic of Year Walk ties together perfectly to craft a spectral horror that spectacularly frames the game.
Why to Take the Walk
Year Walk is a short experience, but benefits from it. The story hangs around long enough to fully immerse you in this bizarre mythological world, but doesn’t overstay its welcome. The short gameplay means moving backwards and forwards around the map doesn’t get too tedious, and a short second playthrough to complete all the puzzles and unlock extra elements of story is a welcome chance to absorb the environment again. With its paper cut-out painting style, encyclopaedia guide and phantom menagerie of equal parts helpful and unsettling characters, playing Year Walk feels like stepping inside a grim old storybook. The use of gameplay elements feels natural to the situation – it isn’t a beautiful fiction with gameplay taped on top but an excellent interactive narrative. It has benefited well from its minor facelift, and the PC version is being offered at an incredibly reasonable price. If you didn’t own an iOS device when it was originally released, I’d highly recommend giving it a try.
- Beautiful artwork and haunting soundtrack
- Plenty of room for interpretation, nothing is too cut and dry
- A pleasing feel of supernatural horror
- Easily accessible, intuitive controls
- You will be tracking backwards and forwards through areas fairly often
- Opening encyclopaedia or tips does cut off the music, which can feel like a jolt
OS: Windows XP / OS X v10.5 Leopard
Processor: 2 GHz
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Graphics: Pixel Shader 2.0, 256 MB
Hard Drive: 1100 MB available space
OS: Windows 7 (or later)
Processor: 3 GHz
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: Pixel Shader 2.0, 1GB
Hard Drive: 1100 MB available space / OS X v10.7 Lion (or later)