Game Review: Year Walk (PC)

There’s something quite magical about folklore, written in the ye olde days before long distance mass communication became a thing and skepticism poured water over the dimly lit flame of anything that required a small suspension of disbelief to enjoy. The unexplainable needed explanation but we didn’t really know or understand things so let’s just say it’s all the fault of a horse that can extend its back depending on how many people got on it to ride and then would drown them when it had enough. Sounds like a load of absolute stark-raving lunacy, but some people firmly still believe in weird shit like Bigfoot, Loch Ness monster and Ray Lewis being innocent of killing those two people.

Year Walk is based on various Scandinavian folk tales, tying them together with the titular Year Walk or årsgång. Undergoing sensory deprivation and starvation, Year Walkers must retreat from the world for the entirety of a festival before embarking on their journey through the woods. As they begin their low blood sugar fueled stumble around the forest they were to come in contact with strange creatures and visions which could tell them about the events of the coming year. Tales of love, death, fortune and other important markers in one’s life could all be theirs for the low price of their sanity or life.

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We start off in a sleepy Swedish farmland surrounded by woods and vast stretches of nothing, speaking to our romantic interest about our plans to go out on a Year Walk. Completely ignoring her pleas and warnings about what happened to a relative of hers who went out on one, we quietly retreat to a hut and wait for the night. When we pop our heads back out, the snowy landscape has changed. A sinister red hue tints the skies that poke through the treeline. A heavy snow falls clouding our vision. We’re on a mission to find answers about the next 365 days and along the way we’ll come face to face with a handful of strange creatures and puzzles that require some thinking to get past.

Year Walk started life as an iOS title, releasing in early 2013. It was praised for taking advantage of the iPhone/iPad’s unique features and incorporating them into puzzles, the gorgeous art design and chilling – though relaxing – soundtrack. It plays out like a point and click adventure game would but with a complete lack of an inventory and lateral-oriented movement with specific points on each “island” allowing for forward/backward movement to another cell. Puzzles likewise are limited based on their original designs, with items being only click-and-drag and puzzle interfaces being simplified. This is not to say that Year Walk suffers due to this, but one can instantly note what it was originally designed for.

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Some puzzles work better than others. I think the worst offender was one where I had to select from 6-8 glowing circles that made an audible hum with different tones as I approached them. If I chose the right one, I was able to progress to another part of the puzzle with an identical setup. If I failed and chose wrongly, I had to start over from the beginning. As someone who nailed the piano puzzle in Myst on the first go, I felt like I was missing something essential to completing what was otherwise an annoying trial & error section. It was over soon enough though, and I was back to running around and coming face to face with mythological horrors.

While it is certainly impressive that Year Walk has been able to combine so much lore and literature into one package, I can’t help but feel like the end result is a tad disjointed. None of the mythos/apparitions that appear to you seem to have any connection to one another. The end result of solving one creature’s puzzle has hardly any real meaningful effect beyond getting you one step closer to an item. It doesn’t help that on occasion a scene flat out doesn’t make sense. In one of the game’s few jump scares I almost thought I had been killed outright, only to discover a giant bloodstain that was absorbed before my eyes. Was I killed? Merely severely wounded? What was the purpose of the jump other than to just put one there? It’s all just a tad bit thematically loose.

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Year Walk’s greatest accomplishment was giving me an experience I haven’t had for a long time – the inability to find a whole lot of information on the subject. Looking up the act itself resulted in hundreds of results about the game itself and none on the folklore. I, as well as a few other investigative souls, started to come to the conclusion developer Simogo had made up the entire thing. It was a pleasure to discover that we were wrong. Year Walking was a ritual that had existed (whether or not it worked is another story) and the creatures that you stumbled across had existed as bedtime stories from evil nannies and babysitters. There exists some records on supposed encounters with creatures like the skogsrå, some who were believed to have had sex with one or cooperated with one were put to death. Leo Kent of Quadrapheme did the Internet a favor by collecting information via print books and phonecalls. It’s really awesome that someone had to go that far in order to find out the truth behind some of the legends.

I can certainly appreciate what Year Walk attempts to do but I don’t feel like the magic of the original survived the transition entirely. Puzzles that previously required the use of multi-touch gestures and the gyroscope were replaced with rather pedestrian item-hunt stuff we’ve seen plenty of times before. While a very short title, it requires at least a second playthrough to solve a previously unsolvable puzzle using information hidden in a locked journal. The second playthrough ended up becoming my favorite part of the game as it gave me more of that investigative feel that looking up information on the real myths behind what we saw in the forest would later give me. Year Walk is a gorgeous and atmospheric piece of work, it just doesn’t all totally feel there.

 

Final Score: 3/5

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Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 3:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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