National Take a Hike Day: The 10 Best Walking Simulators This Decade
We’ve seen a lot of change in gaming over this past decade, and one of the most intriguing developments has been the birth of the walking simulator. While originally a derogatory term meant to mock these games for their lack of gameplay, it’s now proudly used to describe titles that encourage exploration and focus on storytelling. From a punchline to being some of the medium’s best titles, the genre has really come into its own. To celebrate National Take a Hike Day on Nov. 17, Mandatory has taken a look back at the 10 best walking simulators made this decade.
Cover: Campo Santo
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This is the game that kicked off the entire genre. When Dear Esther originally released, there was plenty of debate about if it even was a game. It's a rather silly question seven years later, but it shows how much The Chinese Room's debut really did for walking simulators. One of the coolest aspects of the game is its experimental storytelling, which randomly dishes out different pieces of audio each time the player goes through it. This means that players will come to different conclusions to the open-ended story and its meaning. As a result, Dear Esther is still a fantastic discussion point and has stood the test of time.
Photo: The Chinese Room
'Everybody's Gone to the Rapture'
The Chinese Room would return to the genre in 2015 with Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. It features considerably more interaction than its predecessor as players can interact with a number of objects ranging from radios to switches, but it's still mostly about exploration and piecing together a story. This time around, it takes place in a small English village whose settlers have mysteriously vanished into thin air. It's a beautiful, heartbreaking tale and one of the most thought-provoking releases of 2015.
Photo: The Chinese Room
Certainly the most surreal title on this list, Everything is the creation of critically acclaimed Irish filmmaker David O'Reilly. It's his second foray into gaming, and his first title featured so little activity that it'd make walking simulators blush as players just stared at a mountain. Thankfully, Everything is much more involved as players roll around different ecosystems and can switch to micro or macro levels in order to explore everything from the cosmos to single-cell organisms. It's a moving experience, and one that is accompanied by some great philosophy from the legendary British writer Alan Watts.
Photo: David O'Reilly
While it is a beautiful game to look at, Firewatch is about much more than just the sights of its mountain setting. Players follow the relationship between a fire lookout named Henry and his superior, Delilah. Their back-and-forth conversations are initially an entertaining spiel, but quickly grow emotional as the game continues. The story eventually shifts to a much more serious situation at hand, and some of the story elements are fumbled along the way, but it's still an incredible journey worth checking out.
Photo: Campo Santo
The best game on this list, Gone Home is an incredible title that does a fantastic job at replicating the history found in a lived-in home. It features the player coming back to their house after a time away, and then slowly piecing together what previously happened by exploring the house. There's some light puzzle-solving along the way as the player has to find some keys to open certain rooms, but it's mostly about just learning about the life of who they're controlling and their various relationships with friends and family members. It all leads to a sad ending that will stick with the player.
It's also a game that works shockingly well for speedrunning, as players can finish it in less than a minute if they know what they are doing.
Photo: The Fullbright Company
While most walking simulators are rather serious in nature, Jazzpunk is the polar opposite. Published by Adult Swim Games, it features all of the irreverent humor that one would expect from the late-night cable television block. There are hundreds of hilarious gags found within its world, and it takes place over several missions as the player works as an agent of espionage. It never takes itself too seriously, and is much better as a result.
Photo: Necrophone Games
There is no real point to Proteus. It offers up a gorgeous pixelated world that players can explore. There's occasional wildlife and mountains to climb, but it's a passive experience. What really makes it special is that the world begins to change as the seasons come and go. It's an interesting artistic project, and one that is worth checking out.
Photo: Ed Key & David Kanaga
One genre that has worked surprisingly well within the limitations of walking simulators is horror games. We've seen quite a few titles in that manner, and the one that works the best is Frictional Games' Soma. Rather than battling the monsters, it's entirely about avoiding conflict. These manifest in some captivating cat-and-mouse hunts throughout its underwater research facility.
Photo: Frictional Games
'The Stanley Parable'
Another humorous entry, The Stanley Parable is built around the idea of an unreliable narrator. The game essentially tells the player what to do, but it really starts to get fun when they stop following direction. It's a great examination of authorship that displays just how much power the player has in gaming.
Photo: Galactic Cafe
'What Remains of Edith Finch'
Giant Sparrow's What Remains of Edith Finch was one of 2017's best releases and remains a high point for the genre. The game goes through the history of the cursed Finch family, whose members wind up dying in increasingly ridiculous manner. It features some incredible moments during its short run time, and is a must-play for anyone looking to experience a unique narrative.
Photo: Giant Sparrow