Review: Year Walk

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You can make perfectly effective horror games out of aliens, made-up demons, or haunted dishwashers if you know what you’re doing. But there’s something special about horror rooted in folklore. Telling a story that’s been told before, and told by people who took it far more seriously, grounds your horror in reality and gives it that unsettling edge of being just the tiniest bit more plausible. Year Walk is built around an actual historical belief in Sweden, something that people have attested to experiencing. It’s not the longest or most complex horror title around, but that factual grounding and excellent aesthetic make it an experience you won’t soon forget.

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The concept of year walking is a sort of vision quest that allowed the walker to glimpse the future. Starting on a particularly auspicious day like New Year’s, after fasting and remaining in solitude, the walker could depart their house into the spirit realm, to face the hidden beings of the world. A year walk could be dangerous to both body and mind, but by following certain rules and customs, the walker could arrive at their destination and receive visions of their fate. The year walker you play here has a particular reason for their walk, and by overcoming the hardships along their path, will get an answer to a question they might not have truly wanted answered.

All of this information is culled from the game’s built-in encyclopedia, a small collection of pages that give scholarly descriptions of the concepts found in the game. It’s a useful tool both for clarifying the historical background of Year Walk and for puzzling out some of the interactions you’ll have with the unearthly beings you’ll meet. It also features prominently in one of those very puzzles, in a way that does a lot to immerse the player in the game. For other titles such a reference might be a nice detail, but here it is indicative of the care and consideration put into the overall design.

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You won’t spend the whole game reading up on ravens and huldra, of course. There is walking to do in Year Walk, and you’ll do that from a first-person point-and-click interface. Each area is a panorama of snowy fields and barren woods that you can scroll horizontally across, and then move forward or backward into adjacent areas. It’s a little disorienting at first but the map is very smartly laid out the exact same way, and there’s only 20 or so areas to explore to begin with. You’ll find some kind of clue or object to fiddle with in nearly every area though, so it’ll certainly pay to get and maintain your bearings as you walk.

The puzzles are simple, for the most part, challenging you to find hidden spirits or recall patterns or piece together the meaning of runes. A few of them can stray into frustrating territory, particularly one that requires you to pick out specific notes from a chorus of voices. But the rest make wonderful use of the ominous atmosphere and otherworldly beings to both tax your brain and unsettle your nerves. There are a handful of jumpscares in this one, none of them particularly bad and in my opinion earned. Your whole journey should take you an hour or less, so it’s a nice, compact experience where nothing really wears out its welcome.

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Among the most impressive aspects of Year Walk is its art style, a simple collage of shapes and silhouettes that manages to evoke exactly the kind of wonder and desolation the setting needs. The sound design is suitably understated when it needs to be, and perks up with sharp stingers and dramatic flair at just the right times. Coupled with the clean interface and genuinely interesting encyclopedia, the presentation of this title is absolutely top-notch. Really there’s no reason why any fan of adventures should pass this one up, and fans of horror should be just rattled enough to find it a fine use of an hour. There’s a secret ending to hunt down too, but I think one long walk into the future is plenty to illustrate the artistry that made Year Walk possible.

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