Critical Play: Walking Simulators – Year Walk

Game: Year Walk

Creator: Simogo

Platform: iOS, macOS, Windows

Target Audience: New & experienced gamers who have access to one of the platforms listed

Formal Elements & Aesthetics

Year Walk is a single-player “walking sim” game set in a creepy Swedish forest. Players enter the game from a character’s point of view (first-person) and can explore the forest by using their hand (on iPhone/Android) to swipe right/left & move around until an arrow appears on the screen to indicate which direction they should proceed to get to the next puzzle in the game. These puzzles are what allow players to move onto the next step in the game.

The objective of the game is to get to the final destination, which is the church. The outcome of the game is determined based on whether the player was able to properly overcome the obstacles posed by the other creatures lurking in the dark corners of the forest and the puzzles they have to solve on their journey. If so, the player makes it to the church and gains the ability to foresee the future. Else, they don’t.

Like many walking sims objectives, Year Walk uses unconventional tools to motivate players during gameplay. One specific tool is the very eerie characters and environment that are designed to elicit fear in players. Additionally, the game mechanics create the aesthetics of discovery and fantasy. Players have to walk around the eerie forest’s uncharted territory and discover the different areas to understand the layout of the land and get to their final destination. Furthermore, the idea of a year walker character and the power to foresee the future are all elements of a make-believe world and another reason this game is enjoyable to play.

Successes, Fails, & Potential Improvments

For a first-time walking sims player, Year Walks onboarding was very quick and effective. It sets up the backstory and lets the player figure out the mechanics through exploration. Its storytelling and visual design are done very well, which is proven by the scary emotional response it evokes in its players.

Another thing that makes Year Walk effective is how it centers the narrative such that the player has to engage with it in order to find the game enjoyable. Year Walk has periods where you’re walking around, exploring the environment, and appreciating it which untraditional in other games. As Nicole Clark discussed in her article A brief history of the “walking simulator,” gaming’s most detested genre, Year Walk (like many other walking sims) make dialogue occur in real-time, allowing the game to emphasize the storytelling and leveraging the environment to make it central to the objective of the game.

Despite these successes, one failure/potential improvement lies in the lack of guidance during the first stage of the game. Leaving all of the mechanics to be figured out by the player gives room for disinterest. A quick walk-through of the core mechanics during the initial onboarding screens would have helped a first-time player adjust to the game much more seamlessly.

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