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Year Walk

Andy Robertson


iOS, PC, Mac

Year Walk uses simple tapping interactions and unsettling horror puzzles to recreate the 'Årsgång' Swedish folk tradition of Year Walking from which the game gets its name. Usually practised at Christmas or New Year's Eve, the walker locks herself in a dark room without food or drink or human interaction. At midnight, she walks to the parish church, circles it three times before blowing into the church's key hole. Supernatural beings then present a variety of trials which if passed grant the walker a glimpse of the future. The game follows Daniel Svensson embarking on his year walk. A bleak Scandinavian snowy landscape is navigated by dragging and tapping on different part of the screen. The setting is beautifully drawn and backed by Daniel Olsén and Jonathan Eng's soundscape of equal attention. With little explanation apart from some captivating dialogue with Svensson's young girlfriend Stina, players are left to piece together not only what they need to do but how to make their way around the maze-like landscape. The deserted caves, tracks and hillsides create a sense of disquiet even if you aren't expecting the disturbing supernatural characters that soon appear. For the uninitiated there is some shock at the first encounter. While this involves very little gore, and only a little blood, it does take the experience into horror territory with spinning headed dolls, abandoned babies and shadowy figures in the forests and rivers. For some the bleak nature of the story, unfamiliar mythology mixed with Christian icons and the often impenetrable puzzles will be too much. However I found myself revelling in the obscure (yet logical) solutions to each challenge, finding myself feverishly scribbling different symbols and signs on the backs of envelopes and mapping the world as I went. Without giving too much away, the game extends beyond its initial ending, leaving hints for players to unlock a journal in a companion app. This not only adds more mythological details to the broad brush stokes of the main experience but offers a fresh reason to go back and play the game one more time. There is some irony here, with the 'shut away' rubric around the Year Walker mirroring the often assumed setting of keen gamers. Again similarly, there is a sense of setting aside commonly observed boundaries and wisdom as the Year Walker temporarily leaves the church to head to the woods for fresh revelation. Games too sometimes cross polite boundaries and taboos in the hope of divining a new perspective, although like Year Walkers often find themselves back at the doors of the tradition they had supposedly left behind. Left unanswered by Year Walk, is whether the sacrifice paid for Svensson's glimpse of the future is worth it, not least with his vision of an unexpected outcome. The player is left to mull this over as the game concludes. These elements combine to make Year Walk a game of both substance and meaning. Originally planned to be a film, I felt the developers could have had more confidence in the pitch perfect dialogue at the outset. I played the whole game hoping for more of this which never came. In their defence, perhaps this restraint is intended and certainly adds to the dislocated unresolved undercurrent. Like the Year Walk tradition itself the game is a solitary experience, although one I found myself keen to share after its conclusion. What might be taken as a disturbing or even dangerous tale of divination and desperation, as a whole I found a sense of escape and ultimately hope amidst the madness.