Friday, October 16, 2015

[REVIEW] Year Walk

Year Walk
Played on: Wii U
Genre: Adventure, Horror
Developer: Simogo / Dakko Dakko
Publisher: Simogo

My interest in Year Walk should probably be attributed to a browser-based PC game called The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo. That's because after I had a surprisingly good time playing that title (seriously, it's free, so give it a try), I realized that I don't really hate horror titles as I thought before; I just hate jump scares. If a game is creepy in a more psychological manner, slowly making its way to giving you goosebumps instead of blatantly screaming at your face while holding a chainsaw, I discovered, I'm more than willing to let it do its thing. Year Walk seemed exactly this kind of game, and I wasn't disappointed.

As you find out soon after booting the game, year walking is a practice in Swedish folklore in which a hapless chap starves himself then goes walking through creepy, snow-covered Scandinavian woods right before midnight at New Year's Eve. The purpose is making your way to a church in the middle of the forest, where you'll get a glimpse of what the coming year holds for your future. Along the way, chances are you'll come across some nightmare-inducing mystical creatures, having to appease them if you want to successfully complete this disturbing mission.

The game absolutely achieves the sort of mood it sets out to, with great stylyzed graphics and a wonderfully eerie soundtrack (by the way, wear headphones). The setting is so effective, in fact, that even the beginning of the game, when you set out to meet your forbidden love inside a windmill in broad daylight, is significantly ominous.

The gameplay is from a first-person perspective, but not in the way you may be accustomed to. The exploration is done in a 2D manner, with several separate sections of the woods to go back and forth through. There is extensive use of the gamepad's gyroscope, but don't worry: even I, who absolutely hate motion controls, was surprised in a good way by how the game plays. There are several puzzles to solve; some are quite easy, a few are a bit obtuse, but others are borderline genius in the way they make use of every single aspect of the Wii U hardware to set up the game's macabre mood. No spoilers, so I'll leave it at that.

What ties everything together and lies at the heart of the entire experience is the story. It begins as a simple tale of a poor guy who's going to desperate lenghts to try to get the love of a rich girl, but it soon becomes obvious that there is a deeper, more interesting and even creepier tale being told here. There is a secret second ending to pursue after you finish the campaign; one that sheds light on previously unexplained aspects of the plot and concludes everything in a way that's as memorable as it is sinister. Suffice it to say that even writing this gives me the shivers.

Even if it sadly doesn't last more than two or three hours, Year Walk struck a nerve with me. It's a wonderful horror adventure that manages to be terrifying while mostly avoiding jump scares (yeah, mostly; be advised that there are a couple in there). You'll have to be perseverant and curious to see it through to its conclusion, but once you do, it will be hard to forget.

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