From the opening seconds of Year Walk it’s clear that Simogo, developers of Bumpy Road and Beat Sneak Bandit, have set out to make a statement. More than one, in fact. Firstly, they want you to forget the whimsical charms of their previous games and prepare to experience a tale designed for the more mature gamer. Secondly, no matter how accustomed we’ve become to in-game tutorials, detailed user manuals and handy walkthroughs, Year Walk treats the player like a gamer and an adult. There will be no hand holding, no subtle hints or suggestions to ease the transition into this nightmarish realm of dark fantasy. Put simply, from the moment you launch the game, you’re on your own. From learning the controls to ascertaining one’s next move, the game lets the player decide. It’s a bold, daring move on the part of the developers, but one that works perfectly and pays off throughout, adding to the atmosphere and priming the gamer for the many uncertainties and uncomfortable scenarios to come.
Year Walking refers to an ancient Swedish tradition, where men would venture into the forest at the stroke of midnight in order to catch a glimpse of their futures. It’s here our dark tale begins, and from the outset it’s clear that nothing fruitful will emerge from this vision quest. Immediately the atmosphere is one of foreboding and isolation. The scenery is minimalistic, cold and isolating, and thrusts the player into a realm of uncertainty and unease. Navigation is achieved via swipe gestures with subtle icons indicating the available paths. The game’s sound design is as unsettling as the environments, hinting at the many dark, obscure events to follow. There’s a distinct fairy-tale theme to proceedings, only one where happy endings aren’t an option. Once the feeling of disorientation fades, we’re left with an ever-increasing sense of dread, which never abates, leading to one of the game’s numerous jolt scares, and letting the player know Year Walk will be a relentless exercise in tension. A far cry indeed from the developers’ previous iOS offerings, and one for which the app store is a far richer place.
Imagine, if you will, a short, beautifully written horror novella translated into game form, where the reader has a vague idea of the events to come, yet (despite their ever-present trepidation) is compelled to continue the journey. Year Walk’s inhabitants would be at home among the cast of any Tim Burton movie, with script duties handled by David Lynch. The game’s puzzles are intelligent and well-realised, and allow the player to work through them at their own pace and with little to no hand-holding, leading to a tangible sense of accomplishment. The savvy gamer will bring a pen and paper along for this quest, as on more than one occasion hastily scribbled symbols or noted movement patterns will offer the essential clues to the game’s cryptic conundrums. Also worthy of note is the free companion app the team have released, which serves as an encyclopaedia, adding a wealth of information around the game’s mythical elements and creatures. It’s an essential accompaniment, especially as the game reaches its dazzling, uncompromising climax.
It would be wrong to go into details regarding the game’s plot – as with all the most effective genre fiction, Year Walk is best enjoyed blind. The title has been designed with this in mind, and playing it with no real idea of what to expect will reward the gamer with one of the richest, most compelling and unsettling experiences iOS has to offer to date. It’s even better with the lights off anfd headphones on – fans of the bizarre and bold will not be disappointed. Year Walk is a brave and original piece of work from Simogo, one that we had high hopes for and which delivered. Play time may be short (one lengthy sitting should see the game through to completion), but what’s there offers gamers an experience distinctly lacking in the realm of mature gaming. Well written, intelligently designed and genuinely unnerving, Year Walk proves that those willing to experiment and walk the path less travelled will be rewarded with a rich and engaging experience. If this is what we can expect when Simogo look to the darker side human nature, we’re willing to bet their future holds great things. An iOS experience with true vision results in a walk worth taking.