Year Walk and Year Walk Companion (for iPhone) review

Year Walk and its companion app for iOS are literary journeys into darkness, with challenging puzzles and clever gameplay that will make you want to unravel the whole mystery.
Photo of Year Walk and Year Walk Companion (for iPhone)

In Year Walk (iOS), you take the role of young Swedish man who desires to see the future by undertaking the ancient titular vision quest. To do this, you must walk from your home at the stroke of midnight to the local church, encountering strange creatures and visions along the way. The game is ostensibly a point-and-tap adventure puzzler, but the emphasis is on mood and atmosphere, making it feel like more of a journey than a game.

 With a healthy dollop of inspired artistry, unique gameplay tailor-made for the platform, and some moody Scandinavian horror, you have one of the most interesting games on the platform.

Playing Year Walk
Year Walk is unusual in many ways, not the least of which is that it occupies two separate apps. One is just the iOS game, which retails for $3.99 and runs on most recent iOS devices. The second is called the Year Walk Companion, which is free. At first blush, the Companion seems like a way for the developers to avoid needless in-game exposition (of which there is none). This is true, though the Companion is essential to the game.

Cleverly, the two apps have a nearly identical control scheme. In the Companion, you page left and right between articles on the monsters and the conceit of Year Walking, scrolling up and down to read the full text of each article.

In Year Walk, can move left and right by dragging your finger, or forward and backward. It’s a little like moving through a story book (or the Companion app), an effect which is compounded by the stark, flat paper-cut-out landscape and creatures. The game beings in a bleak, quiet woods filled with stark bare trees. The game is best enjoyed with headphones, to fully appreciate the subtle sounds of crunching snow and blowing wind.

Though Year Walk’s navigation is unique, it’s clearly designed to intentionally confuse and disorient the player. This certainly is in-line with the mood, but it can be frustrating. Especially when you’re struggling to remember how to get to the next puzzle.

The game makes full use of iOS devices’ multi-touch screens and motion sensors, but seems to go out of its way to do so in clever ways. Multi-touching with more than two fingers is frequently required to solve the puzzles as is some out-of-the-box thinking. Great care was clearly taken so that the game wouldn’t play like other iOS games, so it’s important to be open to the game’s internal logic and try new things.

Scares, Story, and Puzzles
Year Walk is entirely story driven, which in this case means entirely linear (but it does manage to sneak in multiple endings). This enforces the game’s weirdly fatalistic mood where you’ll find yourself working hard to achieve rather gruesome goals. The game even teases you by always keeping your house visible, but never allowing you to enter and end the Year Walk. You have to keep going.

On balance, the story itself is a bit wonky. But its shortcomings are easily forgiven since the game is delivered with such beautiful imagery and utilizes experimental story-telling techniques like those seen in alternate reality games.

It’s also a horror game, though it isn’t always sure how to go about this. It’s not gory, though blood and trauma play key roles. However, both are treated more in the way of fairy tales, as contractual or ritual. The game is best when it’s quietly horrifying and moody. A sequence in a cramped, disused shack with a creepy doll early in the game is spine-tinglingly memorable.

Despite this, the game has shoe-horned shocking moments, where grisly images flash on the screen and startling music plays. Sure, this made me jump (more than once!) but it felt a little forced and cheap. Especially when compared to the game’s overall mood.

And though the game is short—it takes between two and hours to play, depending on how deep you go—its puzzles can be devilishly hard. One I solved by accident, and had to look up how I pulled it off. It’s the kind of game that will make you keep pen and paper handy to jot down notes as you play.

Take a Year Walk
Year Walk is a fun, scary, and smart exploration in story telling that challenges other creators to match it. What shortcomings it has are balanced by a game that is both engaging and refreshing compared to many other iOS titles. If you’ve got a few spare dollars, take a walk through its landscape and give yourself over to it for a short while. You might not be the same afterward.

Specifications
Genre Role-Playing
Platform iOS

Verdict
Year Walk and its companion app for iOS are literary journeys into darkness, with challenging puzzles and clever gameplay that will make you want to unravel the whole mystery.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc