Platform(s): iOS, PC (reviewed)
As a duo who have made a habit of defying expectations, Simogo have come far since their early days of endless runners that smartly used the touch-controls of mobile devices. Nominated for a few IGF awards and having scored consecutive App Store hits, they have finally graduated onto a traditional platform by releasing their Scandinivian mythic horror adventure from 2013, Year Walk onto Steam.
While it’s not unusual for mobile games to make a transition onto PC, one of the biggest challenges for Year Walk was always going to be its interface and controls. Those who had played the iOS version would have had a very immersive experience courtesy the intuitive touch controls and the non-existent interface. Imitating that same experience on PC was always going to involve trade-offs but it’s reassuring to see that Year Walk on PC is very much an immersive experience almost free of any superficial distractions that break the spell which the game’s mystical and beautifully drawn layered art and eerie yet haunting score enrapture the player with. One of the first changes you’ll notice to the PC version is a subtly placed interface on the top-right corner of the screen. It contains a variety of options including the absolutely essential Companion App which is now integrated into the interface.
It’s also interesting to see that Simogo has addressed some of the complaints of the puzzles being too vague (and thus frustrating) for some players by including a “Hint” system. This is entirely optional and used at player’s discretion whenever they may be stuck in a place unable to find where to go next. The hints are neatly divided in each section so as to give out only what the player finds necessary. There’s also a map drawn in a fittingly crude manner but one which does serve to address few of the complaints directed at the original version.
In terms of controls, instead of left and right swipes, simple arrow keys or A & D are used for movement and the mouse for interaction. It’s reasonably minimalistic although part of the charm of touch controls is definitely lost in the process. It’s not always apparent but when certain puzzles involve spinning or rotating, using mouse can feel quite clumsy compared to the natural touch controls.
At the core of it, Year Walk is still a dark and enchanting game, capable of atmospheric horror, shock scares and persistent uneasiness creating a remarkable and unforgettable experience in its short span of two hours. Based on a Norse myth that’s expertly adapted from a script by Tarestad and research by Almsten, Year Walk may have a very simple story at the center of its dark heart, but the waters it charts as it narrates it are quite unsettling. Vague symbolism is commonly used in adventure games but the silent spaces that populate between the puzzles in Year Walk tell an equally eerie tale of a land beset by ancient pagan beliefs. The aforementioned Encyclopedia (Companion App for those who played the original) fills in the background to a lot of these myths providing words to these abstract visuals and eerie emptiness of this snowy forest.
The puzzles are reasonably straightforward and if you’re an adventure game veteran you will probably not have much problems. There is a fair bit of backtracking involved in solving each of these puzzles and that is one of the few inherent criticisms I have of Year Walk’s design.
Some puzzles which had required turning the touch devices upside down have been modified for the PC version and they mostly make the transition successfully barring one case where a certain puzzle unnecessarily breaks the fourth wall.
Special mention has to be given to Daniel Olsen’s beautiful score – capable of driving shivers down your spine through an eerie melange of church bells, vocal harmonies, cymbals, loud drones, and strings, it is a solid example of background score providing an additional layer of character to the environment.
If you are new to Simogo’s games, this comes highly recommended. There’s absolutely no excuse anymore to avoid playing this gem of an atmospheric horror game, especially one which has transitioned onto PC quite capably. For those who enjoyed the original, the iOS version is marginally superior but if the temptation of experiencing it again on a larger screen with a greater degree of immersion appeals to you, then this a very easy buy.
In terms of controls and interface, Year Walk has made the crucial jump admirably onto PC only losing part of its charm in the process. But the enchanting and dark heart at the core of the game remains intact and that, even a whole year later continues to cast a spell on you every time you step into its world.