Year Walk is one of those great indie games that tells an interesting little story in a way only a video game can. There isn’t a lot to it, but what’s there is an enjoyable puzzler that teaches the player a bit of history and fairy-tales as they progress toward an unknown end. I was able to finish it in about 3 hours, but the open-ended story left a lot to ponder afterwards.
Originally released on iOS in February 2013 to rave reviews, Year Walk is now available on Steam. This release features a few changes and updates from the mobile version and integrates the games companion app directly into the interface, complete with an encyclopedia section that provides details on the Swedish folklore involved. A little bit of upfront reading and you’re informed enough to understand the things you are about to witness in the games ethereal setting. Without it, you’ll be lost in a nonsensical series of events.
A Year Walk is a sort of vision-quest of Swedish mythology where one hopes to see the future. The game begins shortly before your character embarks on his own vision quest, with the love of his life dominating his thoughts. Once the year walk starts, you are left out in the cold with no real goal or path. It doesn’t take long, however, for you to start finding puzzles or clues to later puzzles, and that’s what hopefully draws you in. The games perspective is an odd one that tries to mix 2D side-scrolling with a 3D first-person view. Basically, you always walk side-ways, starring in one direction, and step forward or backwards into different areas through small paths in the tundra. The paths are indicated by landmarks, but they’re not always immediately obvious until you get used to the games subtle way of leading you around the small map.
Visually, the game is like an animated storybook. While the artwork is well done, I often felt that the scenery lacked interest and could have benefited from a little bit of movement. I would have preferred the snowy weather to have looked more foreboding with a visibly colder and unforgiving atmosphere instead of the calm conditions seen throughout the game. There isn’t much in the way of sound effects or music which I believe was done intentionally so as to not divert too much from the games subdued feel. What little music that exists is also done well but , like the graphics, I wished there was more of it.
The game’s puzzles are few but require a good amount of thinking. They’re not quite the difficulty level of Fez (which can be argued is a very good thing) but are enough to make you work for it. My advice is to write things down and take screenshots as you progress. You won’t know how important seemingly innocuous details can be later on.
The game has been classified as “horror”, but I’m not sure that’s accurate. Creepy, yes, but it doesn’t go out of it’s way to frighten you except in one quick scene. Being based on folklore that was most often used to teach children of the dangers present in such a harsh environment, the game does have its share of “monsters” and deals with some unsettling events like the murder of innocent babies. But there is no fighting or survival elements that should make you feel a sense of trepidation.
After reaching the end of what would have been one of the shortest and most empty games I’ve ever played, it was revealed to me that things might not be so simple and that the future can be changed. I was given one final clue that lead me into another Year Walk were I was able to uncover the rest of the story. Suddenly, this simple game becomes an intricate tale that weaves time almost as well as something out of Bioshock Infinite. There’s some heavy reading involved at this end segment, but afterwards you are left with a conclusion that leaves much to be interpreted yet enough to be satisfying. If you like a story were you are expected to form your own ideas to fill in the purposely left holes, then Year Walk is a very good choice. It’s very much like Dear Esther but without so much cruft in the telling and with more player interaction.
Year Walk is available on Steam for $5.99. It is the winner of numerous awards which are listed on the product page. It was developed and self-published by the two-man team, Simogo, based in Malmö Sweden.