Review: Year Walk is a scary good adventure for iOS
At a Glance
I have always been a great admirer of Northern European mythology, with its vivid (and sometimes disturbing) imagery that draws on the wintry beauty of the landscapes that the inhabitants of Scandinavian countries know so well.
In Simogo’s $4 Year Walk for iOS, you will plunge right into the middle of a harsh, snow-covered winter, searching for your future through what the Swedes call Årsgång, a mystical experience that can only be achieved by wandering—alone, at night, and on an empty stomach—until you make your way to a cemetery, reading signs of the things to be along the way.
Here be monsters
If this sounds like the synopsis of a horror movie, it’s not that far off: Year Walk is an intense game that is guaranteed to give you a good scare or two, and one that I suggest you play within reach of a soft surface on which your device can fall without shattering in a million tiny pieces, because you’re highly likely to drop it at some point or other. (If you don’t suffer from a heart ailment, I suggest you play the game at full volume—it’s very effective.)
As the game’s protagonist, your job is to put your Årsgång on and make your way through the night, solving a series of puzzles to gain insight into your future. Along the way, you come into contact with your beloved girlfriend (who is deeply worried by your intentions) and by a dark crescendo of bizarre creatures, strange symbols, and genuinely frightening nightmares.
To mimic your descent into the proper dream-like state of a year walk, the game goes through different phases that are increasingly removed from reality, bringing you ever closer to a proper hallucination. This clever take on the familiar concept of staging helps to make the adventure more realistic, and gives you an opportunity to enjoy the ending that much more once you get to it.
Following in the footstep of other Simogo titles like Beat Sneak Bandit, the game’s graphics are highly stylized, which somehow manages to give it an even more surreal and engrossing look. Shadows, leafless trees, tall angular buildings, blood trails, ghosts—they are all there, providing a gritty tapestry against which the action unfolds like in a pop-up book from hell.
Year Walk’s soundtrack is also excellent, making full use of every trick in the book of thrill entertainment: discordant harmonies, creepy chimes, scratchy music, you name it. The incidental sounds, like your footsteps in the snow and the howling wind, are dialed in so that they feel exactly like they would in a cold environment where the snow muffles echoes and makes everything sound artificially close.
Maybe if I turn it like this…
Sight and sound aren’t the only senses that are stimulated: the gameplay takes full advantage of iOS’s capabilities to immerse you in its world. Year Walk doesn’t have a typical interface: there are no settings or menus, and no heads-up displays; instead, your device becomes a window into the game’s world, where you can interact by touch: swipes allow you to move, and at some point or other you will find yourself tapping, sliding, rotating, and even separating objects using your fingers.
Even your sense of direction is challenged, and more than one puzzle can only be solved by changing the orientation of your device in a particular way. Interestingly, Simogo has managed to integrate the use of accelerometers and gyroscopes with the story, so that all the tilting and rotating are perfectly justified.
In one word, Year Walk is hard. If you’re used to the way many modern games grab players by the hand and walk them through their stories, you are in for a very rough ride: the game offers precious few hints, and then only as part of the puzzles themselves. There is little in the way of narrative or exposition, and you’re essentially left to your own devices trying to figure out puzzles that are meant to be the product of a mind in the midst of a hallucinatory episode.
From a story perspective, this fits perfectly well with the overarching theme of personal discovery and mystical experience; like you would during a real-life year walk, you have to figure out all the elements of the game by yourself and learn to navigate through all the roadblocks that are placed before you. Still, the game can be very frustrating at times, particularly when you are trying to find your way around a landscape that contains a large amount of distressingly-similar trees.
Luckily, it’s all worth it, because the game’s conclusion is very rewarding; in a clever twist, the game comes with a companion app whose contents can be used to unlock an additional cut scene, which, in turn, further explains the ending and reveals a troubling secret about the protagonist.
Year Walk is one of the best games I’ve ever played on my mobile devices; it brings together everything that makes tablets and smartphones unique into a fantastic package—and without resorting to gimmicks. It’s a rare specimen in which every little detail is perfectly justified by the storyline, and you never feel like the developers are forcing you to do something only so that they can mark a checkbox in their list of must-have features.
This game is also great because it doesn’t patronize its players. Instead, it presents them with hard but solvable puzzles and assumes that they are smart (and patient) enough to work out a way to solve them on their own, resulting in a much more satisfying experience. Toss in a genuinely suspenseful and scary experience, and you end up with a title you won’t want to miss—at least as long as you don’t play it alone, at night, and on an empty stomach.