Year Walk

CULTURAL TRADITIONS ARE TERRIFYING 

Year Walk came out in February of last year for the iOS, but I am a technological cretin and believe in segregation of computer and phone, and therefore did not play it. However, it came out for the PC not long ago, and a brief examination told me I absolutely had to play this game. Like many games I have played, and like several of my most recent reviews/promos, it’s a point and click adventure game where the mechanics are almost entirely cerebral.

Unlike those games, and the vast majority of games everywhere, Year Walk is a quiet, terrifying expedition into Swedish folklore. The plot involves a young man embarking on an Årsgång, literally “year walk,” a spirit quest deep into the woods. On an Årsgång the walker must sacrifice a holiday—sometimes May Day, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve— spending the entire day away from any fire or warmth, any light whatsoever, any human contact whatsoever, and must abstain from eating.

Already the price is intense; a rural Swede would not be quick to give up one of the few feasts and celebrations in their year. They must wait until midnight, at which point (still abstaining from any of the above) they must leave their home and walk through the woods, visiting various sites, dealing with and dodging spirits, and risking their very life to ultimately reach the church. From there, a ritual movement or dance would grant them visions of the coming year. In some tellings, Årsgångers would receive more than visions; at the church they would be granted complete knowledge of all hidden things for all time.

The developers (both of them) at Simogo, a Swedish group with a history of small, fun touchscreen games, stumbled upon a little-known facet of their own land’s folklore, and from there, were as unable to stop making the game as I was to stop obsessing about it. The player must navigate their own deserted stretch of Swedish woodlands, crunching snow underfoot as they slowly piece together the puzzles sent their way by spirits and trees and stones. Any confusion the player might have as to what in God’s name they’re seeing could be easily cleared up by a visit to the encyclopedia in the top corner, complete with entries on the supernatural aspects and entities present with the journey. Of course, knowing what the creatures are doesn’t so much as appease the fear, as add to the dread of having to court them.

The developers themselves insist the game’s only genre is adventure, but its frequent labeling as horror is no mistake. The game features both the long, slow burns of building dread and a few sudden, terrifying jump scares. But there’s also a strange melancholy and reverence present within it all, and the woods seem so alone. The investigation and atmosphere do contribute to Year Walk’s power, and its puzzles are neither too hard nor boring, but ultimately it’s the frightening, impartial spirits that the player must navigate, and that long walk itself that make the game haunting—not just during the experience—but for days afterward

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