Top 10 Best Walking Simulators 2015
While we wish there was a better name for it – and better than “interactive narrative,” which it is not comprehensive enough – something about so-called “walking simulators” makes them magnets for controversy. Blood-boiling, career-threatening controversy.
Is it because audiences are more immersed on a neurological level than they may be by, say reading a novel which may act more on the emotional and intellectual layer rather than hijacking the nervous system required to actually manipulate your POV character through the setting of the title? Is this what suddenly makes it harder to discern irony, jest, whimsy, sarcasm and post-modern debauchery?
Is it that we go in with the expectations of a gamer, where often time is scarce and a factor towards end goals, and yet walking sims tend to be more about slowing or negating time and savoring detail and moments even more than we can in real life?
Whatever the case may be, David Wreden’s The Beginner’s Guide had a lot of people convinced that its pretense was somehow a legitimate confession of IP theft and even got one notable game writer in hot water for attempting to somehow outmaneuver and appease this
arguable gullibility misconception among some of its audience.
The fact is, whether or not the author claims to have stolen something or not, the retelling of it is unto itself an original work, rendering all concerns of piracy moot, full stop. Also, go look up Raymond Carver. And Thomas Pynchon. And D.B. Weiss.
Walk A Mile in Their Shoes
Nina Freeman’s Cibele had some gamers angry for not being a real game, for being too boring, for being too racy, not being racy enough, being about a teenage girl, for not representing her male significant other realistically and all sorts of other grievances. Either way, it sparked a lot of emotion.
And from previous years, Gone Home had people angrily and triumphantly uploading their two-minute speed runs to prove how little value there was to the game.
But the genre has not only persisted, it has grown, matured and expanded. It also will form a powerful foundation for those looking to understand the narrative potential and methods for virtual reality – approaches that may not make as much sense coming from television and film.
Thus, we are pleased to present Indie Game Reviewer’s:
Top 10 Walking Simulators of 2015
10. Electric Highways
by Zykov Eddy, Xitilon
This first person experience plays with the very real near-future idea that Virtual Reality has overtaken the global human experience and is starting to take its toll on human sanity. In a terrific spectrum of 1980’s cyber styles and approaches (including the pencil sketch A-ha video for Take on Me), developers Zykov Eddy and Xitilon create a series of interesting levels to negotiate. Every time you feel like giving up, suddenly a way forward becomes clear and you push forward into the next iteration of a virtual digital dream turned dark.
It can actually become quite dizzying, and the labyrinthine, otherworldly albeit digitally abstract nature of the settings can saturate your senses, so you are begging for the vision of a tree or river. Nicely done.
9. Home is Where One Starts…
by David Wehle
Very much a “pure” walking simulator in the vein of Dear Esther or Gone Home – both cited as influences by developer David Wehle – Home Is Where One Starts… evokes a bittersweet tranquility. As you guide the little girl protagonist – reliving memories narrated by an older version of herself – through a lonely rural landscape, the story and imagery reveals a childhood rife with both sadness and innocent joy.
The imagery conveys the message superbly, with broken bottles and moldy toilets juxtaposed with the beauty of dandelions floating on the breeze and sunlight dappling the forest floor.
8. Three Fourths Home
This interactive story deals with many of the same themes as other so-called walking simulators – growing up, family dysfunction, alienation – but in a new way. Rather than simply wandering through an environment, you’re driving on a rural highway, hoping to get home before a tornado arrives and talking to your family by cell phone.
Depending on how you guide the conversation – conciliatory or bitter, sympathetic or sarcastic – different elements of the protagonist’s back story reveal themselves. A short prequel episode uses a subtly different mechanic; again, it’s a cell phone conversation simulator, but this time it’s a bus stop, not an automobile.
There are few things more terrifying than those haunted houses where you have no weapon, no recourse, only a path through the darkness, and everything malevolent therein has had far more time than you to prepare its position. Kholat is a terror inducing walking simulator that happens outdoors in much the same manner.
IGR writer Tanner Smith (a.k.a. Lucidson) wrote:
“Up until the very end, this game will have you questioning absolutely everything that happens. While the sound effects are perfectly placed, the score is sporadic and is really only heard when you discover a new section of the story or if you’re being chased. In this game of survival, silence is your friend.
Instead of one straight path or one town packed with stereotypical jump scares, Kholat brings perpetual fear to the player. In a beautiful marriage of horror and survival, this thrilling first-person indie will have you questioning your sanity as you dive deeper and deeper into the abyss.”
by Rob Howland
For a new twist on the definition of the genre, let’s turn to the possibilities in education!
While the depth of learning doesn’t approach anything as extensive as the iconic Rosetta Stone software, Influent still puts a novel gamified spin on learning new languages. In total, there are 400 words that can be learned by exploring a typical one-bedroom apartment. Successfully completing quizzes awards points that can unlock verbs and adjectives associated with certain items.
This method of learning through exploration is a surprisingly effective way of quickly building a vocabulary. While you won’t be learning any sentence structure, Influent would make an excellent accompaniment to a more thorough language course. There’s also a bunch of languages on offer, and at a comparatively low price point.
5. Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist
by Crows Crows Crows
From an indie team led by William Pugh, whose previous work includes The Stanley Parable, this Monty Python-esque, fourth wall-demolishing postmodern comedy shows what the format can do. A rambling and discombobulated narrator urges you along corridors, requesting you take certain simple actions to prepare for the eventuality that you will have your turn understanding what the hell is actually going on – a trademark for this camp of creators.
The thing is, they do it really well. And we just want it to keep happening.
by Tender Claws
Although the developers shyly refer to this as an interactive “e-book,” it transcends that description. In Pry, you are first person in the body of a war vet and experience a series of exchanges and encounters, not only with those close to you, but with darkness and your own mind.
Pinching and dragging the screen opens and closes your eyes and consequently reveals matters of the subconscious, an examination about the lies we tell ourselves.
Built for iOS, it makes a terrific example of how to exploit touch surface UIs and contemporary video-based narrative. We most value those experiences that underline the unique nature of their respective platform. Pry is an absolute standout in this regard, and that’s why it makes our list.
by Star Maid Games
surprisingly controversial, intimately personal-seeming interactive narrative captures deliciously the awkward, tricky experience of being an adolescent female transitioning into more mature relationships matters through the lens of her online life.
Intermingling video based cutscenes with first person computer desktop simulation – even playing through her favorite MMO while she chats with her paramour – this experience is quite unlike anything else out there and demonstrates the power of the medium.
2. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
Created by the team that brought you Dear Esther, this PlayStation 4 exclusive slowly unravels the details of an event that causes the denizens of entire small English town to vanish. Dancing orbs of light will guide you to points of interest, and some will expand into story events that will fill in some of the plot details. Was the town lost to a scientific catastrophe? Did a strange new virus take them down? Or did heaven truly open its doors to claim its faithful?
The answers are nestled in the nooks and crannies of a small forest town bursting with details, both large and small. Lush foliage surrounds the worn buildings, and tiny items of note can be seen, indicating that whatever befell the town, it happened quickly. It all binds around a well-developed cast of characters who were caught in the middle of the events that transpired and supported by the incredible musical score composed by Jessica Curry.
1. The Beginner’s Guide
by Everything Unlimited
“The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist” ~ Charles Baudelaire
“What’s real? What’s not? That’s what I do in my act, test how other people deal with reality.” ~ Andy Kaufman
The Beginner’s Guide is not just another brilliant agitprop piece from the mind behind The Stanley Parable, an Andy Kaufman-esque figure of the indie game world who even removed himself from Twitter after the game’s release to underscore the ruse.
The idea that some felt his final Tweet about going on a long break was an admission of guilt only underscores how successful (and unfortunately not too difficult) Wreden has been in his demonstration of deconstructionism with the propensity of a Leprauchan.
The Beginner’s Guide is actually a rather sensitive ontological examination, making beautiful visual examples about how we perceive others and how we express ourselves sometimes somatically rather than verbally or through pageantry. It examines the inner world and the universe in others that we cannot see, but if we look a little closer, we may begin to accept that the puzzle goes much deeper into meaning than we could ever have suspected at first blush.
This shows how the genre, although at first seeming a benign mechanic – walking through a narrative on rails with little agency – to be a very potent one indeed. One that is forming a powerful bridge to what changes the virtual reality paradigm will usher in.
Thanks to InfinityWaltz, Adam Fimio and fictivetruism for their additional help with this article.
What were your favorite walking simulators in 2015? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!