I was in a panic. An actual panic.

The forest around me was changing, and I couldn't find my way back to my cottage: I was hoping to methodically explore the map, hoping to impose logic onto a shifting, supernatural landscape. It was dark, I was lost, and the Swedish snow was falling interminably -- my heart beat a little faster, I was sweating despite being in bed under a blanket, and I became upset enough to close Year Walk [$3.99] and browse Twitter for a while. It got in my head.

Granted, I was playing Simogo's latest horror-puzzle-exploration game in ideal conditions. It was dark, it was raining, I had was wearing headphones. But, Year Walk has an undeniable sense of place. It's a gripping, somber, atmospheric, and elegantly-designed game, and everyone should play it.

Here are the basics: Year Walk is a first-person puzzle game based on the Swedish myth of the same name. People who wish to year walk isolate themselves and refuse to eat or drink for a full day before striking off toward the local church at the stroke of midnight. If a year walker makes it to the church, he or she will see into the future, but the price paid for such a luxury is almost always high. There are monsters out in the snow you don't want to meet.

In practice, the game functions like any number of adventure games: the playable space is cordoned into discrete screens with transition points scattered throughout. Two-dimensional objects sit on a large three-dimensional plain, and each new screen comes into view like a pop-up storybook or a theater prop, coupling with the stark black and white art to create a dreamlike environment.

It helps that the woods around the church feel geographically impossible: even after playing the game twice, the relative location of each major area is unclear to me. As more creatures are encountered and and puzzles are solved, once-familiar areas will start to change: bloody footsteps appear out of thin air, or a nearby windmill might start and stop without warning. Simply moving through the world of Year Walk evokes the supernatural folklore that drives the story, reminds you that creatures like the Huldra don't follow the rules of space and time.

Simogo have also released a companion app to Year Walk [Free], a slick encyclopedia of the concepts, creatures, and lore the game introduces. The companion will also explain, for example, the relationship between a Myling and the Brook Horse, or how to figure out if a Night Raven has infected an egg. The companion app does all of the heavy lifting for the game's lore, keeping Year Walk itself from being overly expository, and it includes little details that might help you work through some of the game's puzzles.

The companion's most important contribution, though, is that it adds another layer of fear onto the game. Knowing which creatures exist and what they're capable of -- but not knowing where they are or when they will strike -- makes every screen transition, every peek inside an abandoned shack fraught with apprehension.

Year Walk is a sparse, stripped down game, and every element feels designed specifically to reinforce the game's narrative mood. The soundtrack is a haunting mix of light folk music and discordant chamber music, complimented by crunching snow, creaking floorboards, snapping twigs, and the bloody gurgles of creatures going bump in the night.

There is a fine line between utility and elegance, though, and the lack of text or direction can sometimes hamper players' progress, which can break the game's atmospheric tension. Your mileage may vary, but there is one early puzzle that I'm confident I'd have never solved without outside help. Still, the majority of Year Walk is intuitive and easy to grasp. The thrill of solving each puzzle is in catching a glimpse of the world's gruesome logic rather than prevailing in some battle of wits. The puzzles only exist to serve a lore that requires a grueling psychological test before the year walker is allowed to proceed: they are interactive world-building elements of a world that never ceases to be engaging and terrifying.

The setting and premise of Year Walk are its strongest features and its guiding principles. It's a delicately and precisely-paced game that pulls all of its design elements toward one goal: the over-arching dread of dealing with dark and dangerous things, the fear of pushing too far into the supernatural. Eventually, the story breaks free of the confines of Year Walk itself -- to say more about the endgame would be to spoil a series of meta-events that gave me goosebumps.

If you're willing to buy into Year Walk, to explore it's shifting landscape and learn its lessons, you'll find a tremendous game. I've never played anything quite like it.

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarStar
  • toffee

    Played this for an hour on my lunch hour and nearly fell off my chair at one or two points. The review is spot on in that it gets into your head.

    Disorientating, intriguing and very different, it has a Blair Witch vibe about it. The companion is a nice touch too - I had that open on my iPhone while playing on the iPad.

    One of those rare iOS games that you actually can't wait to play again, rather than them just filling up time.

  • Nick Andreetta

    I expect this game will do very well since every single person that complained about freemium on TA will buy a copy.

    • martapp

      I bought mine, but I didn't have chance to complain about freemium yet. Does that count?

    • NOEN

      Great post!

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      It's a shame I can only up vote this comment once.

      • menom

        I'm sure you're being ironic there Eli.

        Nice one!

    • mudd

      This game will be in my top ten list of games to play while I'm waiting for bumper to be fixed in Real Racing 3.

    • menom

      I hope it does well too - although folk who don't like freemium do not have to like every single paid for app ever launched.

      That would be an asinine expectation - so I'm sure that wasn't what you meant.

  • ThisIsAUsername

    Not sure that I want to play something that gets into my head... Sounds like it will drive me to the psych ward or something.

  • wildperson

    After playing this for nearly an hour last night, I realized that it's completely different than any other game I've played. Most puzzle games shove a challenge in your face and give you a tutorial on how to beat it. This is much more challenging, yet rewarding.
    Also, scary as hell.
    Also, the companion app is a must.

  • ZEROFACES

    I seriously had the EXACT same experience, as detailed in the first paragraph of this review.

    I played in my bed, under my covers, late at night, and became so frightened that I literally shut it off and scrolled through my twitter feed to calm my nerves. And when I finally felt comfortably enough to go to sleep, I honestly didn't sleep all that well.

    I don't know what it is about the game, but it really does get inside your head and make you feel genuinely scared. That is, if you play in the right conditions.

    Anyway, kudos to the devs. I'm very satisfied and impressed with this one. It definitely lived up to the hype =^]

  • HelperMonkey

    Very well-written review. I was doubting this game because of its short length, but you've revived my interest by a good measure.
    Hell, I paid for Graveyard -which lasts 10 minutes- just for the atmosphere and experience. By that standard, this certainly sounds like it's worth a few bucks.

    • wildperson

      I'm 80% sure the graveyard was designed as a game to troll.

  • Thorz

    Looks really interesting and bought it after reading the review and the comments. Hope it lives to the expectations :)

  • garret44

    Just starting it, gonna take it slow and enjoy the environment and atmosphere. It's such a unique game, in my opinion it's a top notch ios game. The music and sound effects definitely suit the beautiful graphics.

    Can't wait to lose myself in this game. Worth the $4

  • Tatiana

    This game looks incredible. Definitely definitely downloading this!

  • McCREE

    Well written review. Excited to get a little deeper into this game. The Companion App is very interesting and really does a great job of filling in some story without cluttering the game experience. Had a lot of fun reading it last night. I'll post a review on iTunes when I get a little more into the game, but form what I've seen so far, this should be a great experience.

  • http://twitter.com/Platronic John Francis

    Sounds incredible, like a quality over quantity thing similar to The Room. I hate to ask, but does anyone know how long it is?

    • MrAlbum

      Early impressions give about 2-4 hours if you blow by every secret detail of the game. There are secrets and twists that are optional, like codes you can enter into the Companion app that you can find in the game world, optional puzzles that reward you (that one's my guess), and stuff like that.

      • http://twitter.com/Platronic John Francis

        I might as well say that the Companion app is brilliant and I would totally steal that idea if I could.

  • Sunshine

    Played through this in an evening and I'm delighted that I did. It feels about the length of a short movie perhaps? Satisfyingly dense, for sure, utterly devoid of meaningless filler. I sighed at the end and thought, "that really was a great game".

    The attitude towards the player was fantastically traditional: "this game works, the inputs are simple enough, you'll figure it out. I won't patronize you at all, I'll just sit here looking pretty." And figure it out you will, after a few crafty lateral reasoning gags, and you'll feel great for having done so. The, "me so smart" reward is palpable, even if it tries to scare the crap out of you when you get there.

    The companion app is the digital equivalent of a physical prop in an old boxed adventure game. You can riffle through it away from the game, and there is enough of a tie between the two that you'll actually have to, to see everything that the game has to offer.

    You like games? You like creepy folklore? Run, don't walk to this game.

  • Dams

    InstaBuy. Kind of game that freemium can't compete with.

    • Dams

      Well, only 2 h long to be the whole game (yes the whole for those who understand what i mean). Too short.
      And not scared at all.

      Too much hype on this game i assume.

      • Dams

        Beat *

      • MrAlbum

        Did you figure out the companion app's secrets? Did you get the "true" ending? If not, then back to the game with you! If so, congrats!

        This ain't Dead Space. It's closer to Cthulhu IMHO, but with a Grimm's Fairytale folklore edge. The Huldra made me shout out loud when it REDACTED

      • Dams

        Yep, i got the true end, that's why i put the "whole" ;)

        But while it's not a bad game, I expected more, especially after reading everywhere that it was so different from other games.

      • MrAlbum

        The hype probably did blow things out of proportion, but that's what hype does, right? Make things seem larger than life?

        Take the hype out, and it's still a great game IMHO.

      • Dams

        Well, it still a good game, but it didn't beat S&S for me which is still the reference for me. This game was more scary, very long and immersive.

      • Dams

        One of my regrets is the companion guide: when I read it I was like "hu ? only 5 sections long ?! I assume there is some more to unlock once you go in the game (cf password), it's just the beginning"

        But it was not. Once you read the 5 sections, you already know everything about the game.

  • iammane

    Awesome so far! The mood is chilling and beautiful. I kind of want pen and paper though might make things easier lol

  • Andy C83

    I hope that Simogo make enough money from Year Walk so that they're able to continue making the kind of games that they love. I really enjoy all of their games, what a talented team.

  • Adams Immersive

    I'm not sure if I've ever before rushed to by a game early just in CASE it goes on sale in future. I want to pay full price (equal to a lukewarm mocha with a hair in it) to support creative and unusual gaming excellence.

  • Tikicobra

    I'm happy to say that I completed the game without any help, although I certainly found myself stumped on more than one occasion.

  • homosaur

    Who else is now super interested in reading all they can about bizarre and creepy Swedish mythology?

    • OldBearEric

      Haha totally!!!

  • toffee

    Well I commented at the top after an hour sitting and have now finished finished the game - probably a 2 hour experience in total. Many will no doubt question whether it is worth the money (£2.49, seriously...) but it absolutely is.

    Finished it with no help and now looking forward to doing it again. I hope there are some secrets but only because I'm greedy for more. Well done to all concerned.

    Oh, and I should praise the review as well. I didn't like the writing in the previous article but the review was well written and well judged. Credit where credit's due.

    • Illuminerdy

      Well-judged.*

      • toffee

        Thanks...

  • themostunclean

    I'll assume I know which puzzle he needed help on and just say for others-

    Paying attention to the little drawings and music in the game will help a lot if you're stumped.

  • DrFu79

    I'm actually very proud to have breezed through this game in under two hours without any help.
    I loved the interaction with the companion app which was an unique experience.
    Adams Immersive wrote that buying this game at full price is a must. From now on Simogo is the first App Developer that is an instabuy for me. Support creativity :D

  • OldBearEric

    Great review. This is honestly one of the best gaming experiences I've had in quite some time, bar none. I'm not even saying just in iOS. It floored me.

    I played it in one setting in about 2 hours (maybe more) and I am more satisfied than with any movie I've gone to see this year. The companion app is a must read, do not miss out, it enhances the experience so very much.

    If you loved Sword & Sworcery or The Room this will be right up your alley without feeling like a ripoff, it's so very unique.

    Do yourself a favor and take the plunge...

  • Illuminerdy

    Where is the end-game?! No raids?!

  • http://www.facebook.com/malte.rubin.7 Malte Rubin

    I´ve a short question: is it necessary to understand english during play? my girlfriend can´t, but wants to play this game ;-)

    • Joseph Leray

      Most of the game is strictly puzzles, and there's not a lot of text. You could complete it without knowing English, but it would lose some of its impact. There's a lot of text at the end of the game that explains the game in a lot of cool ways that she'd miss out on, too.

      :(

  • ChaosIsMe

    Very disappointed. Yet another overhyped try-hard "artsy" game being talked up from fan boy to fan boy. I'm beginning to wonder if TA takes bribes for high ratings.

    • agentblank

      You must not be very sophisticated. You would need to appreciate good story, which it seems you do not. And the atmosphere was great, if played in the right settings.

      • ChaosIsMe

        I don't like the same thing as you. I must not be sophisticated. An articulate and clever retort from an equally clever 12 year old.

    • Happy W

      Damn. If you'd included the word "hipster" in your comment, I could have called Bingo.

    • mudd

      Were the people on here giving great reviews being bribed too? HOW DEEP DOES THIS CONSPIRACY GO?

      • ChaosIsMe

        No, they're just the large demographic of preteens who see a 5 star review from TA and a faux-artistic facade and "love" it for its "deepness." What a sham.

      • mudd

        You didn't like it. Okay. I don't think it's as great as some of the hype either, but I think that it's a little irrational to jump to the conclusion that people who disagree with your opinion are being bribed.

      • ChaosIsMe

        It's not the opinion difference that makes me think that, it's the amount of undeserved praise this game is receiving. It's not unheard of for review companies for other products to accept bribes, so why would it be so hard to believe that one that has a high amount of traffic for iGames hasn't been bribed? Regardless of how dull the "game" is this company's marketing department gets an A+ for superfluous hype.

      • sonomakid

        Don't feed the troll. He's basing his posts off of his opinion same as everyone else. We liked it. He hated it. The bribery comment is simply trolling. I repeat, don't feed the troll.

  • Libertine

    I have just finished this game and while it may be short, it is one of the best experiences I have had on iOS. Tense, atmospheric, clever and very unsettling. I can't recommend it highly enough. I hope people will support this, as I would love to see more games like this.

  • Ploulack

    Just finished finished it.
    In the beginning I was really up about having found a game that would rock me like Sword&Sworcery did. But it falls short.
    Not by any weak points but simply because it's less ambitious.
    Year Walk is certainly better at disseminating the puzzle solutions than S&SW though !

    One advice (for the only place where I was stuck): in the cave don't hesitate to touch stuff you find intriguing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rameken Jan Rameken

    Bought the game on day one. As a one off experience, it was good, but the puzzles werent really all that challenging and the "real ending" and what it entails to get to it, is so short and silly that they probably should have found a way to incorporate in the main story as the one and only real ending.

    Sweet artwork, good atmosphere, jumped a bit at a few jack-in-the-box scares, but I think this game is getting a little overhyped. I expected a little more meat on this skeleton, but then again I weaned my ADV game teeth on the likes of Myst and Riven and Zork Nemesis, so its only natural that the puzzles in this are way too simple and straightforward for me, much so that they can barely be called puzzles at all.

    I give it 4 stars, for the brief and somewhat creepy story. Beat Sneak Agent remains my top Simogo game.

  • http://www.facebook.com/w.daniel.willis W. Daniel Willis

    Really, the ending gave you goosebumps, you must be easily amused. That was one of the most disjointed and nonsensical endings since Mass Effect 3. The really sad part is that they could have parlayed that ending into a fascinating second walk if they hadn't taken the stupid way out. Yes, it's elegant and creepy and fun, but it's way too short for all of that to overcome the lazy storytelling. Two stars for effort.

  • iamLudlow

    I'm actually kind of lost. I can't be that bad at puzzle games, I hope. I'm just wondering and noticing things changing but I still feel like im walking in circles.

  • http://www.keithburgun.net/ Keith Burgun

    There's a genre for this which I call WASP LAWS.

    It's an acronym that stands for "Walk Around and Solve Puzzles, Look At Weird Shit".

  • http://www.fri-v.com/ Friv

    This game looks incredible.

Year Walk Reviewed by Joseph Leray on . Rating: 5