Glimpse the Future in Year Walk

Not any day will do. People, food, and the merriment of the festival days where it can occur are to be avoided at all cost. You are not allowed the comfort of a fire. But if, at midnight, you should venture out into the wilderness and follow the ancient rite of the Year Walk, glimpses of the future may be revealed to you…but at what cost?

Take a walk with me as I delve into Simogo’s newest — and most distinctive — iPad experience, and unravel some of the dark secrets you can look forward to in this superbly atmospheric game.

Årsgång: Year Walking

Drawing from obscure corners of Swedish mythology, Year Walk explores the unusual and esoteric practice by the same name through which citizens attempted to peek through tears in the universe and witness views of the future. While the mythology is rich and fascinating, the task of fashioning a game around it is no easy feat and making one good enough to be featured by Apple is even less so!

Not A Casual Title

As the late Kenji Eno remarked in an interview, “it’s because people make half-baked games that users think ‘In this day and age, why do I have to sit in front of the TV for 2 hours?’… It’s better to make a something that’ll make people think, ‘I’ve got to take time this weekend to play this game!’

The developers have taken this advice to heart — crafting a game that deliberately eschews many of the common tropes of the current mobile gaming landscape in favour of an experience that asks for your complete attention, patience, and willingness to be enveloped in its world.

It was a risky move, but one that — for a large demographic of gamers — will be remembered as a welcome breath of fresh air in an App Store full of freemium-filled notification dispensers with bright colours and no soul.

I am categorically in that demographic, so I set aside an entire afternoon for Year Walk, looking forward to my own solitary journey on a quiet couch in a dark room, with all my devices on airplane mode and nothing to distract me. Perhaps I was seeking a glimpse at gaming’s future.

Gameplay

What I got was an engrossing adventure game. Taps and swipes propelled me through the wintery landscape, where fleeting shadows and scattered debris invited my exploration.

If you have a good sense of gaming intuition, you will have no trouble picking up Year Walk’s controls. The problem is that gamers used to the modern trend of exhaustive hand-holding are likely to be frustrated by this title’s utter lack of guidance. No one will tell you that you’ll need more than one hand to complete some puzzles, or that you need to have a notebook ready to keep track of the clues you will gradually encounter.

This freedom to examine and pursue things at your own pace is a terrific change of pace, and results in some very genuine surprises as Year Walk subverts your expectations.

Aesthetics

It may not initially occur to you that you’re playing a horror game. While the atmosphere is certainly bleak, the art is not — it is elegant and dynamic, evoking the starkness of the northern woods without artificially influencing your interpretation of the imagery.

The creatures you will encounter — each one a true character rather than a masked obstacle — offers a beguiling vision of the imaginative depths of this mythology. They will intrigue you, frustrate you, and terrify you.

The audio is, as always, a gigantic contributor to the experience and one that is best experienced in a quiet environment with good headphones. The visuals’ tendency to be impartial and subtle are largely mirrored by the musical accompaniment, with only occasional deviations to highlight a particular moment or mood.

The Companion

Alongside the main game, Simogo released a free companion app for Year Walk that serves as a portable encyclopedia of the game’s mythology. It is both bestiary and historical treatise; your very own mini Wikipedia for the game. It gives meaning to the spectres who haunt the woods, and more weight to your encounters with them as a result.

But there is more to it than that, and players who succeed in their traversal of the main game will find themselves presented with more questions than answers — and a key to unlocking those answers in the companion app through a fascinating means.

Even then, you have not yet seen the true conclusion of Year Walk. Needless to say, my afternoon progressed into evening without me even noticing — or caring.

Simogo’s Gamble

Given the bright nature of their previous titles, it might be tempting to conclude that the team at Simogo have decided to go emo on us all of a sudden. I believe this is not true, and I think the truth is more intriguing: that they have recognized the true potential of the iPad as more than a portable console for childish things.

It seems that, with Year Walk, they are hoping to explore new ways of telling stories through interactive experiences. Year Walk itself is two apps — the companion app is not optional — and so the “game” transcends a single piece of software, emerging instead from the process of assembling the story for yourself from the pieces offered to you.

They have exploited the strengths of the platform — capabilities that cannot be replicated on a conventional console — and used those to craft a product that is wholly authentic.

Conclusion

In simple terms, Simogo have raised the bar for what it means to make a great iPad game. Year Walk is concise, engrossing, and perfectly polished. It sticks with you not because of any artificial, mechanical addiction, but because it is so genuine, so troubling, and so imaginative. Whether or not other developers have the talent and the bravery to follow in these footsteps remains to be seen.

While my Year Walk did not afford me a glimpse into the future of gaming, it did remind me of why it is worth looking forward to. And of why we are all lucky that developers like Simogo are here to be a part of it.


Summary

An atmospheric experience where exploration, mythology, and horror play out against the backdrop of the Swedish wilderness in a peerless example of modern interactive storytelling.

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