If you go down to the woods
Year Walk is a curious title for almost every reason imaginable. It’s a new PC game but it’s actually come from iOs platforms with relatively minor improvements. It’s an unusual mix of puzzle solving and horror.It’s only an hour long. It’s Scandinavian. So far, so weird. But somehow the whole thing ties together into something that is incredibly compelling. You’re almost certain to complete the whole game in a single sitting, but that’s what you’re meant to do.
Taking place in a rural setting, mostly through a forest with a brook on one side and an open plain with a windmill on the other, you spend most of the game in what is called a ‘Year Walk’. Taken from what was apparently half-forgotten Swedish folklore, the basic idea is that men who were somehow lost in life would subject themselves to some kind of deprivation or suffering and then wander out into the forest at midnight to see glimpses of the future. This sets an already haunting scene that is compounded by the myth-inspired ghostly creatures and goings on.
It’s easy to get lost in Year Walk as there are few landmarks and all you do is scroll the screen on a horizontal access looking for paths forward or backwards or objects to interact with. Across the hour of gameplay you begin to learn your way around the forest and later on the game makes use of this, referring to certain objects or places and you’ll immediately know what they mean. As you begin you see loads of cryptic signs and hints but they all come together surprisingly quickly and rarely do puzzles seem unfair or needlessly complicated. You’ll move through at a swift pace, feeling clever for working out the challenges but never being patronised.
The puzzles might be reasonably simple and few in number, but really the gameplay is completely secondary to the wonderfully horrible atmosphere. The forest is pervaded by a mixture of dread and wonder and it is this that will stick with you long after you finish the game. The story is largely forgettable, although moving, but the feeling of the game is almost palpable. The experience is what matters, in a way that echoes Journey and Gone Home. These are games that aren’t remembered for their riveting gameplay mechanics or their incredible plots. It’s the way the game makes you feel as you progress, the way your emotions are manipulated.
Year Walk isn’t as polished as those masterpieces. Some of the emotional notes are rather cheap and gimmicky, the art work for the setting is beautiful at times but many of the characters are less convincing. Some of the puzzles are clearly designed for touch devices with few allowances for mouse control. Overall this is a brilliant little experience and for £3.99 you can’t go wrong. Just be aware that you’re paying for an interesting experience rather than a more traditional game.