Year Walk Review: The Road Less Traveled
Year Walk’s fondness for folklore was not lost on me. Although said folklore stems from Swedish superstitions, I still recognized goat-headed Grims and water-loving Brook Horses. If those creatures sound foreign, you will not find them in fairy tales. Year Walk dips its mitts into the horror genre, delivering a narrative as perplexing as the puzzles players encounter.
The game’s name is somewhat enigmatic, too. A year walk is akin to a vision quest that, if successful, grants people foresight, letting them see the future. The catch is, this custom has many stipulations: no food, no human contact, and believers must attempt the journey at night (ideal horror game conditions, in other words). Meanwhile, unholy apparitions try to lead travelers astray.
If that summary sets off your “nope” sensors, Year Walk may not be for you. Released on the App Store last spring, developer Simogo’s terror sensation finally migrates to Steam. The story remains untouched. Your character begins his crusade against the will of his love interest, moving left and right through flat environments, leaping between the foreground and background at fixed points, and unfolding the narrative in turn.
Keeping spoilers to a minimum, Year Walk wraps up in an hour or two, based on your puzzle solving acumen. What do those tree carvings mean? Who left glowing runes lying in the snow? Like Fez, you may need a pen and paper to connect the dots between two objects. “Oh, that doll’s head spins. Do its movements mimic those dancing owls?” Simogo takes an unconventional stance towards in-game audio, too. As one example, you must find a woman’s lair while she sings her siren song, but make a wrong turn in the woods, thereby following the wrong pitch, and the puzzle resets.
Players approached riddles through trial and error in the iOS version. The PC port fares better with a map and hint system. While the map undermines Year Walk’s original intent ‒ making you chart your progress like a turn-of-the-millenium cartographer ‒ perhaps you can resist its temptation. The hints, however, are invaluable. Simogo gradually unveils clues, handing out vague tips until outright telling you to explore the windmill, check that shed, etc.
Purists should avoid these features, but the developers rearranged several puzzles to prevent fans from speedrunning the game again. One encounter sends you on a scavenger hunt for four ghosts. iOS players eventually arrived at a kiln and rotated their devices upside down to expose one of the tortured souls. Here, you must unlock the furnace itself, with only the meta hint, “the keys are ‒ indeed ‒ keys,” to guide you.
Although simple, the solution stumped me for ten minutes. Simogo flaunts their expertise for interactive brain teasers from start to finish, though the atmosphere certainly helps. Sporadic blood trails and flashes of a deceased girl accompany tranquil hymns and the snowy crunch beneath your boots, with intermittent scares that toy with you mentally. Solving puzzles provides a cerebral high, but doing so pays in terror instead of sunshine and rainbows. If you also think the horror genre has become too stagnant, imagine my shock when each fright startled me.
Of course, the visuals establish Year Walk as a game to watch as well. Ominous red, white, and black hues, and monsters that move like marionettes, contribute to the papercraft presentation. And like classic Shakespearen plays, Year Walk does not end on a happy note. The finale is obscure, though the encyclopedia, a prior companion app, puts some questions to rest. Simogo integrates information about Year Walk’s fabled creatures directly into the game, and knowing what they could have done to help or wipe me out of existence unnerved me even more.
At the same time, Year Walk loses interest after a second playthrough, which explains most of the epilogue’s mysteries via an in-game journal. While the ultimate shortcoming is the game's length, the price should mitigate any hard feelings. Simogo only ups the Steam cost by two dollars (from $3.99 to $5.99) ‒ one of the fairest iOS-to-PC price hikes I have seen ‒ and that extra sum nets you new puzzles and locations.
Sweden has been a hotbed of horror exemplars. Frictional Games gave us Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Starbreeze Studios fostered The Darkness, and DICE … well, let no one forget about the nightmare known as Battlefield 4. But Year Walk is something more: a mash of folklore and riddles I wanted to savor, a narrative of death and intrigue I wanted to bask in a little longer. When so many gamers give up on the genre after their first scare, consider how rare those feelings really are.