A beginner’s guide to walking simulators

Want to see what the fuss about walking simulators is all about? Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place.

Landscapes are plentiful in walking simulators like Firewatch.

We’ve covered why walking simulators have become a success in the highly competitive video game industry; but you may be confused about where to start. Of course, The Stanley Parable has been covered in detail, and is as good a place to start as any, but what about the rest? Here’s a list of the walking simulators you should have a look at.

The Beginner’s Guide (2015)

Published and developed by Everything Unlimited Ltd.

Metatextual is THE word that defines The Beginner’s Guide.

What better way to start a beginner’s guide than with The Beginner’s Guide? The game is Davey Wreden’s solo follow-up to The Stanley Parable, released in October 2015. It’s narrated by Wreden himself, and features him taking you through a series of incomplete games by a developer named “Coda”.

The game itself challenges you to interpret the game’s narrative as you see fit, to the point where Wreden will not confirm what the subtext of the game is and refuses to give interviews about it. Laura Hudson of Offworld said: “So much of the pleasure and insight I derived the game came not just from the moments when I played it, but the moments where I sought to interpret it, where I spoke about it with others, where I ultimately projected my own ideas about what it meant to me.”

Gone Home (2013)

Published and developed by The Fullbright Company

Prepare to criticise handwriting.

In Gone Home, you play a 21-year-old woman called Kaitlin, who returns to her family home in Portland, Oregon, only to find the house empty. The game sees you trying to find out what happened by searching the house. Cody Mejeur, Digital Humanties PhD student, says the game is “about a particular emotional experience or a particular social experience… It’s putting you in the experience of coming home to a family that you’re actually finding out you didn’t know the way you thought you knew them.”

The game has sold nearly 700,000 copies on Steam. It was a critical success, nabbing a Game of the Year award from Polygon and winning a BAFTA for Best Debut Game in 2013.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (2014)

Published and developed by The Astronauts

The beautiful open world is one of the strongest features of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is more non-linear than the “walking simulator” brand suggests — the game actually takes place in an open world. However, the reason it fits into the walking simulator genre is because of its linear story, where you play as a paranormal investigator sent to search for the eponymous Ethan Carter.

Philip Kollar of Polygon said: “It is evidence of a kind of narrative that games can do better than anything else, as well as proof that games can work with a story that doesn’t need to be overblown or exaggerated.” This game was another BAFTA winner, scoring the Best Game Innovation Award in 2015, and has sold nearly 600,000 copies.

Dear Esther (2012)

Published and developed by The Chinese Room

Off-the-wall chemistry. Yes, that was a terrible pun.

Dear Esther, much like The Stanley Parable, was originally released as a Source mod in 2008. It was then redeveloped as a full game and released in 2012. The game features minimal gameplay, as you explore an island, listening to a narrator read letters to his deceased wife as you go. The original mod won several awards, while the full game received the Excellence in Visual Arts award at the 2012 Independent Games Festival (IGF) Awards and 5 nominations at the 2013 BAFTA Games Awards.

Joe Martin of Bit-Tech said: “Dear Esther definitely isn’t a product which everyone will appreciate — the walking-talking pace tends to polarise audiences quickly — but those who are tempted to try it out would be much advised to do so. You won’t be disappointed.” The game has sold over 800,000 copies to date.

Firewatch (2016)

Published by Panic & Campo Santo / Developed by Campo Santo

The ever-faithful lookout tower shines in the moonlight.

The most recent game on this list is Firewatch, a game set in a national park where a fire lookout and his supervisor experience strange things and investigate. A large focus of the game is the relationship between these two people, which can be influenced by the player using branching dialogue over their only means of communication — a walkie-talkie. By saying certain things in a certain way, the relationship can be dramatically changed.

The game has been hugely successful, winning prizes like Best Narrative at the Game Developers Choice (GDC) Awards, and is currently nominated for 6 categories at the next BAFTA Games Awards. By the end of 2016, it had sold over a million copies. The game is even being adapted as a feature film which is currently in pre-production.

The walking simulator is clearly a powerful genre, attracting much critical attention. According to Mejeur: “One of the things that stands out about the genre is that it’s a very narrative genre and that in almost every case that I’m aware of, it’s about putting you in a particular situation where you’re going to have a particular experience.” And clearly, these experiences have been lauded for their intricacy and drama.

Hopefully with this helpful guide, you too will be able to take a walk on the wild side with these games.

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