Review: Year Walk Is A Terrifying Supernatural Journey
Beautiful, and darkly atmospheric, Year Walk delves into unsettling Swedish folklore to deliver a short but mind-bending journey into the unknown.
- Worth The Time?Yes.
- Things LovedThe atmosphere from both visuals and audio (definitely a headphones or big speakers game), the use and interpretation of actual folklore.
- Things HatedNothing hated; perhaps only I was left wanting more!
- RecommendationDefinitely a must play.
- Name: Year Walk
- Genre: Point and Click, Horror, Puzzle
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: No
- Platforms: PC, iOS, Android
- Developer: Shimogo
- Publisher: Shimogo
- Price: $5.99 (R63.61)
- Reviewed On: PC
Maybe it’s a factor of living in near perpetual darkness for many months, but Swedish folklore is dark. And “Year Walk” draws on some of the strangest of these traditions to create an atmospheric journey through snow-covered forests on New Years Eve. It is dark, surreal, and fully unsettling.
The game was created in conjunction with research into the traditions and folk beliefs of Sweden, and draws on these in order to create a narrative based on the practise of the ‘year walk’ – where someone shuts themselves in darkness for a day and then sets out on a supernatural, shamanistic journey through the forest in order to see the future. The walk involves meeting various ambivalent forces, and ends with a ritual pattern of circling the town church in the dark, where something called a Church Grim is known to roam. What could possibly go wrong?
The game’s art and atmosphere is a true selling point. The visuals are striking, playing with colour and mood to capture a frigid winter night. The sometimes sparse soundtrack, coupled with the darkness and the falling snow creates an atmosphere heavy with tension. From the beginning, the year walk is set up as a bad idea: from the ominous warnings of the unnamed protagonist’s love interest, to the creepy carvings on the trees. The art is stylized in a way that really draws out the surreal, supernatural elements of the story, with pared down visuals blended with a soundtrack that hovers until the perfect moment to swell and charge every action with a sense of foreboding.
Another personal favorite element is the use of folklore. The game provides an excellently researched encyclopedia of information about year walking, and the various beings, like the Huldra, Mylings, and Brook Horse, which you will encounter. These, along with the abovementioned atmospheric elements, really work to ratchet up your tension and awareness that this whole ritual is definitely a bad idea. The game also plays in quite a metatextual way with the importance of these pages to solving the riddle of the year walk.
The riddle itself, of course, is presented in a relatively conventional way: you need to finish the year walk by circling the church, and there naturally are numerous puzzle-obstacles blocking the way that must be solved. While this may seem a typical approach, what sets ‘Year Walk’ apart is the way it makes each puzzle element fit directly with both the tone of the game, and the actual narrative itself. Another excellent addition is the stacking hints screen, which allows you increasingly direct clues about what to do next. Naturally, there is an achievement for completing the walk without any hints, but for a few puzzles, at least the first time, it is a really nice to have element.
The tone, naturally, is one designed to freak you steadily out. There were many genuine “FLEE THE IMMEDIATE KEYBOARD AREA IN TERROR” moments as things unexpectedly leapt out at me, what I really felt was the true horror of the game was the steadily more freaky implications of what was happening. The game taps into the quite primal fears that drive the folklore in the first place, and refuses to resolve them into easily digestible packages. The story is left openended, and requires at least another replay to unlock the hidden clues that weren’t available the first time around.
However, this also leads me onto the games only real disappointment: that it was over so soon! I loved every minute of the game, and after finishing it, and then returning to discover the secrets I was left starving for more! While that isn’t really a criticism of the game itself – it was perfectly self contained, with enough to bring me back for probably another full runthrough to wrap my head around things and ensure there’s not even a single detail I overlooked – I really do wish there was a little more to feed my appetite for the macabre world the game presents.