Walking Sims Roundup!
So there is a new genre of game out there. They are called Walking Simulators. Why? Because that’s what the majority of the game play involves. Walking…and story…and some interaction and minor game play…but mostly walking!
I’ve become a sucker for these games. I mean, I love a puzzler or shooter or candy crusher as much as the next person but sometimes I only have a couple of hours of free time and just feel like getting involved in a good story.
Recently I purchased two walking sims which have been getting grand reviews. And I think they’re both worth talking about!
On the more dramatic side of the walking sims is Firewatch, in which you play Henry, a middle aged man who has gotten a summer job in a national park watching for forest fires. Your only companion is your boss Delilah, who only communicates with you through a walkie-talkie.
The first portion of the game is actually more of a text adventure than a walking sim. There, you get to dictate Henry’s past: how he met his wife, whether he went a smooth and subtle approach or a bumbleheaded one, whether he and his wife talked through their problems or kept them locked up inside, how he dealt with her early set dementia…
That soon gives way to Henry’s main story watching forest fires from a tower for three months to get a break from the difficulties of his marriage. Much of the game is spent traversing the peaceful and scenic park. There are cliff’s to climb up and rappel down. There is a mysterious cave that begs to be explored.
The heart of the story belongs to the growing relationship between Henry and Delilah. Their dialogue from the get go is full of witty banter (or at least that’s what it was when I played) which soon gives way to more heartfelt talks. I was constantly waiting for it to grate on me but I ended up looking forward to the next time that Delilah would come on the radio and start up a new conversation.
There is an over-arcing story of a possible intruder to get some mystery going and it’s tantalizing enough to keep you wondering just what is going on but I don’t think it would work nearly as well without the relateable characters and refreshingly natural dialogue. When the three months were up and the plots were getting resolved, I know which one I was more invested in, that’s for sure.
If you feel like something with a more dramatic flair or if you just would like a peaceful walk through one of America’s great natural wonders occasionally followed by a melancholic guitar soundtrack, definitely try out Firewatch.
Over to the sci-fi side of things, we have Event. Much like Firewatch it begins as a text game in which you fill in your own backstory. Unlike Firewatch it involves a major game mechanic that I have had yet to see in many games. Also, it’s in space.
Event 0 takes place in an alternative earth history where humanity somehow got its act together and managed to unite in peace and focus on the important things in life…like space travel. They did not seem to focus enough though as the beginning of the game has you hurling through space in an escape pod while your ship detonates all around you.
By chance you discover an old space station built in the 80’s (remember, alternative earth). Unfortunately it is abandoned and your only companion is the ship’s computer/AI who has been keeping the station together for the last twenty-five years. What happened to the ship’s crew and how to get home remains to be discovered.
This is where the game mechanic comes in and what drew me to the game in the first place. In order to progress and find out the backstory you must communicate with the AI. Unlike most games however which would normally have a dialogue tree you are free to physically type whatever you want to the AI.
Suddenly a whole different sort of world opens up. I probably did not experiment with what I could type nearly as much as other players, but it was incredibly freeing to craft my own questions and responses to the AI, named Kaizen. And naturally, Kaizen seems to have a personality all their own. Or is it just the player projecting a personality onto the computer?
I admit, I had a lot of fun with this one. While there are not any puzzles per se, learning to communicate with Kaizen seemed to be puzzle enough. Learning a major plot point or discovering another small mystery proved to be extremely satisfying.
Then there is Kaizen. As I said, for an AI it seems to have a lot of personality and its own motivations for either keeping information from you or for distrusting you entirely. Depending on how you treat Kaizen, it might actually develop a fondness for you much like it did the previous ship’s owner. Or it might treat you with disdain. To reveal any more would be going into spoiler territory though so I will leave it at that.
Needless to say I am going to play it again. There are multiple endings to unlock and I feel like there is even more backstory to discover in the depths of Kaizen’s memory. Definitely check it out.
The only other things I will say about the games is that they are alas perhaps a bit on the expensive side for the amount of time you can play them. I would consider the quality game you get well worth the price but not everyone will feel that way which is understandable.
Do you have any walking sim suggestions? I am always up for more! (except maybe Dear Esther).