Year Walk is a minimalist point-and-click chiller that affectingly and disturbingly strains for meta-fiction. Originally released on iOS devices last year, it reminds one of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves more than it does modern horror video games, its haunting narrative an interactive experience across multiple media. The game conveys a fictional Swedish tradition it calls “year walking,” where individuals traverse haunted forests on the eve of the new year in the hope of glimpsing the future, and its gameplay feels like a throwback to puzzle classics like Myst and The Neverhood, with a simple WASD control scheme in conjunction with the mouse that allows one to move around the woods and interact with objects and creatures. Its puzzles involve sating the supernatural inhabitants of the icy wilderness, whose origins are explained in a striking in-game encyclopedia, while a gorgeously drawn map aids in the journey through the maze-like forest. Both of these extratextual media interplay with the fiction itself, uniquely leading to larger reveals about the game’s narrative.
Year Walk’s port to Steam is flawless, with the inventive iOS touch controls and beautifully artistic graphic and sound design immaculately recreated on the PC. The game takes full advantage of the extra hardware, cleverly utilizing a full surround soundscape to drench the player in the foreboding atmosphere of the haunted forest, while retaining the same striking animation, which suggests a nightmarish Edward Gorey picture book come to life. Further, the addition of a hints system assists the player in deciphering some of the more opaque puzzles. Upon first completing the game, access is given to a researcher’s diary—originally offered as part of a free companion app on iOS, here recreated as something akin to a DVD extra—wherein the story continues and draws the player back into the game, expanding on its ideas about choice and the curse of wisdom that brings no profit to the wise. Year Walk is a genuinely scary game, one which sparingly deploys its moments of dread (just wait until your encyclopedia starts bleeding) and maintains tension with its thick, uncertain atmosphere, never resorting to gruesomeness or cheap jump scares. Its only sin is its brevity, as it can be completed in only a few hours and offers little replay value, but it matters little, as those hours are haunting, and aren’t easily forgotten.