Gaming for Grown Ups
18th March 2014 09:00:00
Posted by Rob Kershaw

Year Walk

PC Review

Hugely successful on the iPhone, point-and-click puzzler hybrid Year Walk has finally hit the home computer market. Does Simogo's port live up to the creepy brilliance of its mobile counterpart? The Digital Fix wraps up warm and delves into Swedish folklore to find out.
Year Walk was a sensation when it hit the App Store a year ago. A bold, confident vision of mythology and dread unlike anything seen previously on the the mobile platform, it rightly garnered praise and accolades. Developer Simogo has seen fit to port over the game to PC with some added extras, but the question remained: would a handheld title of this nature - where swipes and gestures were key to solving its secrets - translate as well onto the home gaming platform? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

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You’ll be spending a fair bit of time on this screen.

The practice of year walking is an old Swedish tradition of divination which, legend has it, will allow the walker to possibly see the future. To achieve this goal, they must fast, stay in a darkened room for a day, and not speak, laugh or have any contact with others. At night, they would then walk to a nearby church cemetery, possibly being accosted by spirits and other mystical beings en route who attempted to kill them. If they survived, they would need to navigate around the church in a specific path in order for the secrets of the future to be presented to them.

Simogo has taken this premise and run with it, adding embellishments which incorporate all manner of creatures including mylings, huldra and the brook horse. To reveal how these creatures are involved in the story would be to spoil the surprise, but the narrative - such as it is - favours atmosphere over detail… at least to begin with.

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This is likely to be one of the first truly disturbing puzzles you encounter.

Played for the most part on a purely horizontal and vertical plane, your nameless, voiceless protagonist will wander the forest from east to west and from north to south, searching each area of the map for clues as to how to proceed. A brief encyclopedia, which took the form of a mobile companion app previously, is now included in the game to give you a flavour of the mythic history. That said, other than the shortest of tutorials on how to navigate, you’re pretty much left to work things out for yourself.

Puzzles will be familiar to fans of the “escape the room” genre, although Year Walk transcends these both in scope and surrealism. The entire game is steeped in a black-and-white cinematic grain, adding to the creepy tonality. To call it a horror would be incorrect, although there are a couple of nerve-jangling scares thrown in. These are used sparsely thankfully, with more unsettling imagery being favoured instead. One of the initial puzzles you’ll encounter will be a musical wooden marionette serving a dual purpose which may go unheeded on your first engagement. Like most of the challenges, the game makes clever use of its environment and the compact map (consisting of around thirty to forty screens of various sizes) means that you will never feel too put out by revisiting past locations to discover new secrets.

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The encyclopedia provides context, but also has an unexpected part to play later on.

Indeed, part of the joy - or terror - of the game is experiencing changes within familiar locales. The subject matter, whilst fictional, doesn’t stray from unpleasantries such as drowning, child murder, and other nightmarish visions; playing Year Walk with the lights off at night is most definitely recommended for those with hardy constitutions. As with any game that wants to effectively mess with your psyche, the aural accompaniment needs to be perfectly pitched and here is no exception. The ambient soundtrack not only sets the eerie mood as you wander through the frosty, barren landscape, but also offers interactivity via some music-driven puzzles. The spot effects are equally important, providing the right level of squelching and chittering to match the blood and screams.

The translation from mobile to PC is also largely successful, and whilst the keyboard and mouse combination may not feel as immersive as swiping at the environment and interacting directly with the puzzles using your fingers, being able to experience the game on a larger screen more than makes up for it. Additions such as the new hint system have been aimed at the less patient and may annoy purists, although there is nothing forcing you to use it and the hints do start off fairly obscure (one example: “She holds the key. Follow her song.”) and become direct but never too explicit. The map system is also welcome, especially since the landscape can feel quite samey in its monochrome coldness. Puzzles won’t take particularly long for all but the most casual player to solve, and the whole thing can easily be wrapped up in under three hours, but Steam achievements serve to offer further rewards should you decide to decipher their ambiguous meanings.

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The snowy landscape serves to chill and disorient in equal measure.

Overall though, the beauty of Year Walk is in its discovery. For the first time in a while we found ourselves making notes on paper whilst playing, recalling the halcyon days of text adventures. The way in which the puzzles ultimately tie into the game’s main themes will elicit nods and smiles of admiration for their subtlety if not their execution, with many being variations on Simple Simon. Observation is key though, and you won’t find recordings or journals dotted around the landscape filling in the gaps, a trope lazily employed by so many other titles. One journal is present and it is an important one, but its relevance won’t be discovered until late on. Even then the game’s finale serves as a puzzle, taking a much-deserved curtain call and tying up the loose ends for those patient enough to pay attention.

It’s heartening to see a crossover of a more niche mobile title onto the PC platform, especially one which brings such atmosphere and creativity to the fore. For under five quid, Year Walk is a steal, and we hope it is successful enough to encourage other indie developers to tread the same path, whilst fervently praying for Simogo to port over their other hit title - Device 6 - in the near future. Given the confidence oozing from this release, they’d be crazy not to.
Details and Specifications
Review Platform: PC

Publisher: Simogo

Developer: Simogo

UK Release Date: 2014-03-06
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