In Year Walk, you step into the shoes of a young man named Daniel. After a short trek through the woods, he heads to a windmill, where he meets a young lady. A short conversation ensues, and she informs you that you must head home, since night is approaching. Your Year Walk is about to begin.
In the old days man tried to catch a glimpse of the future in the strangest of ways.
Experience the ancient Swedish phenomena of year walking through a different kind of first person adventure that blurs the line between two and three dimensions, as well as reality and the supernatural.
Venture out into the dark woods where strange creatures roam, on a vision quest set in 19th century Sweden. Solve and decipher cryptic puzzles, listen for clues, and learn about mysterious folklore creatures in the built-in encyclopedia as you seek to foresee your future and find out if your loved one will ever love you back.
Mysteries and clues await everywhere in Year Walk, but to fully understand the events that took place on that cold New Year's Eve, you will have to delve deeper than the adventure and lose yourself between fact and fiction.- simogo.com
As your Year Walk begins, you stand before an old cabin. The game takes place on a 2D/3D plane. You can only move left and right, while there are certain sections that delineate whether you can move up or down through the scenery. A small, pulsing orb takes the place of your mouse cursor, and allows you to interact with the environment.
The H.U.D. is in the top right hand corner, and consists of a map, an encyclopedia of mythical/supernatural beings, a locked journal, hints, game settings, and of course the option to quit the game. You can click on any of these icons at any point in the game. The map is very useful, since it's really easy to get lost in this vast wilderness. The Encyclopedia gives you some interesting insight into the other worldly beings that you will come across, as well as some informative back story on each creature. The journal is locked till a special point in the game, while hints are a saving grace if you ever find yourself stuck, or wandering in circles.
Puzzles serve as the main interaction with the world, with many of them cleverly integrating the Encyclopedia, and other objects that you just happen to pass on your journey. They aren't particularly difficult, but you will have some interesting moments as you attempt to solve each one.
The art direction is amazing. The world, from the backgrounds, to the characters, and supernatural beings, all look like paper cutouts. Even the animation is limited, with slight twitches, and subtle movements, and segments of the body moving independently of the rest of the character. It's very stylized, like a twisted children's book, that's both very creative and interesting to engage in. Yet, even with the childish look and feel of the world, the game manages to tell a thought provoking --and oftentimes disturbing-- tale.
The story is interesting from beginning to end, and is never boring, or predictable. It begins simple enough, with the meeting of the young girl at the windmill, and learning about the Year Walk. However, the simple stroll becomes a spooky, sordid tale of ghosts, blood, time, and the supernatural. It never becomes overtly scary, but there were moments where I genuinely jumped and felt my spine tingle. It's eerie enough to keep you slightly on edge, but never dives into full tilt terror. Which is nice, since you can slowly become drawn into the tale. I still wouldn't play it with the lights off, though. Seriously. All I'll say is: babies.
The immersion is fantastic. From the way you interact with the world, and especially the way puzzles are designed, Year Walk allows you to be engulfed in this strange new world. The Encyclopedia holds a lot of information. If you take the time to read, learn, and listen to the stories written within --about the dark creatures of Year Walk-- you'll find yourself slightly creeped out, yet fascinated by all of the myth and legends. Oh, and the journal! Without spoiling anything, I'll say that the journal, and the way it's integrated into the game, was simply beautiful. I enjoyed how Simogo blurred the line between game and reality. I found myself wondering, “Did this really happen?” After several play throughs of the game, I wanted to search the internet and see what truth there was to Year Walk, if any. Oh! And the box. The box!
The music and sound effects are also really well done. It's never overt or over the top. Sounds are subtle, but set the tone of the world perfectly. From the squish of your feet against the snow as you walk, the whine of the windmill cogs, to the slight whirring sound as you move from one stage to another, every effect helps complete the sense of being a part of this world. The soundtrack, done beautifully by Daniel Olsén, is filled with a lot of emotion. It ranges from sweet, gentle piano ballads, quirky pings and music-box-twangs, to haunting, sinister, and magically heartbreaking. The music was one of my favorite parts of the game. There's a soundtrack available, and I really want to get it!
Yet, despite all my praise, I have to admit that I was disappointed that it was so short. Not in a bad way, of course, I just wish that there was more to it. The puzzles were really inventive, the creatures were things I've never heard of, and exploring the world was more satisfying than a lot of action oriented games I've played before. It can be completed in a single afternoon, and I found myself wanting to spend an actual year exploring the secrets and mysteries of Year Walk.
The other thing that I had an issue with, probably more than anything else in the game, was navigating through the world. There are only certain segments of the stage that you're allowed to move up, or down in, which allows you to head to a new area. Maybe I was walking too fast, but I found it difficult to notice the white arrows. Even when I knew they were there, it was easy to miss them, and it hampered travel a bit, and took my mind out of the immersion.
I eventually learned that, usually, whenever you can move up, there's an item, like a pillar, or sliver of a road, denoting where you can move upward. The same goes for the areas where you can move down: there will usually be some object in the foreground. This is true most of the time, but there's so much in the background and foreground that it's easy to get confused and miss them. I wish it was easier to tell where you could move, and that the arrows were more visible. It isn't game breaking at all, but it was a bit of a hindrance.
Year Walk takes place within a simple forest, but you can't help but get pulled into this ethereal realm. It is an amazing game that keeps you mystified, intrigued, and wanting to continue on, to unravel the secrets of this strange world. And once you have access to the journal, the line between game and reality truly blurs, and it's a surreal experience that will leave a lingering feeling well after you've stopped playing. I loved it! This is a wonderful game, and well worth your time.
Review copy of Year Walk courtesy of Simogo