Walden, a game based off Henry David Thoreau’s book of the same name, is a first-person survival-exploration game. The game puts players in the role of Thoreau himself as he lives in the wilderness, away from civilization at Walden Pond, as chronicled in his book. Players must maintain their food, wood, as well as shelter and clothing durability as they immerse themselves within the wilderness.
The game is very exploration heavy, as the more you search around the more you find these arrowheads, which give little bits of Thoreau’s story and experiences, which are fully voiced by Emile Hirsch, of Into the Wild fame. You can also observe plants and wildlife around you which gives little insights on what you see.
Finding these insights gives the player inspiration, and when inspiration is high the colors of the world are more vibrant as well as the music more present. I found more enjoyment with the music turned off however as it allowed me to soak in the sounds of the animals and of the nature around me.
The sounds of nature and these little story moments made playing the game feel very immersive as I could tell a lot of care was put into making the forest feel like a living breathing world. This is helped by the fact the graphics of the wilderness looks fantastic, and as the seasons change, so does the environment and you can see these changes reflected through the forest and the pond.
Although the design of Walden Pond looks wonderful, the few NPCs that are in the game do not. And one little boy, who does nothing but run around outside, looks particularly goofy as his animations are very awkward and unnatural.
As much as I enjoyed finding Henry David Thoreau’s observations on the world around him, the voice acting for Thoreau himself felt very wooden and robotic. It was especially jarring when talking with other people who do show variance and emotion in the way they talk, because it made Thoreau sound that much duller.
Another instance of this feeling particularly out of place is when his tone of voice is the same for when he is questioning the necessities of prison as it is when he is reveling in the wonders of nature. What should be a spiritual and eye opening moment for Thoreau just feels like it is being read from a script and nothing more. As you hear this quite frequently in game it becomes quite boring, and really detracts from the overall impact of what is going on.
The survival aspect of the game involves maintaining your food and wood supply while also keeping up the quality of your house and clothes. There are many ways to do all of these things, and I never once felt like I would have trouble finding food or wood, even in the winter time. Many of the tasks you do involve a small little minigame where you must click the mouse and move it in a certain direction. These are all very similar, and never do they change, making them feel repetitive after you do them a lot, and you will do them a lot.
The game also gives you tasks from time to time, some of them minor like chopping wood, and others are tied to events going on in the world at the time, such as delivering items for the underground railroad. Many of these tasks are simply done by walking to a certain place or finding certain things, and usually they reward you with money, which is used to buy supplies or more storage and house and clothing upgrades.
At first these tasks felt immersive and important to living out in the wild, but once I learned that there are essentially no repercussions to running out of supplies, these tasks felt meaningless and uninteresting. There never is any real threat, and the progression of the game is so limited that earning money rarely feels like it is necessary either. Some upgrades, such as ones for the fishing pole, are limited and wear out after using them a certain amount of times, making those seem like a waste of money.
As an immersive experience, Walden succeeds quite well. It accurately emulates the feeling of living as Henry David Thoreau did, and having little snippets of his story helps build the feeling of connection to the world around him. Fans of Thoreau’s work will be able to appreciate how much detail went into making it feel like a living breathing world.
However, as a video game Walden often falls flat. Maintaining your supplies feels essentially pointless, as there is always plenty of food and wood around at all times. The fact that the repercussions for running out of them is just a decrease in your max energy makes these tasks feel like unimportant busy work. Walden is at its best when you can just explore the world around you without having to worry about survival. But when it comes to surviving, it just feels like a collection of chores you need to do, lacking in any real depth and purpose. 5.5/10
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