When some people hear the words “walking simulator,” it’s not something that immediately hooks people as a potential popular video game genre. But believe it or not, games that fall under this niche category can actually be quite compelling. What Remains of Edith Finch is a prime example of this.
The game told its story through first-person exploration with very little gameplay, such as puzzle-solving or platforming. Instead, the game relies on visual storytelling to capture the player. There are not many games out there that have taken this exact approach but by focusing on pure exploration and storytelling, walking simulators are worth giving a shot.
A game being referred to as a walking simulator where the main means of traveling is swimming may feel strange, but the exploring element of Abzû is reminiscent of other games in the genre. The player controls a nameless female diver in third-person as she swims around an ocean exploring every nook and cranny. Along the way, she is guided by a great white shark that leads her to wells that restore life to the ocean. The game has no dialogue and strictly uses its visuals to tell the story.
If players are just looking to vibe with a chill experience and no goal in mind, Proteus can provide just that. The game revolves around a player moving through a procedurally-generated, three-dimensional pixelated environment listening to fitting music as they experience each of the four seasons, from spring to winter. Along the way, players will notice that different elements of nature that surround them affect the music as it is playing. Players can even take photos with the game using the “save a postcard” feature.
8 Ether One
Storytelling can be compelling, but sometimes it can also be tragic. Ether One focuses its story on Jean Thompson, who has been diagnosed with dementia. The player takes on the role of a restorer whose goal is to investigate Jean’s thoughts and reconstruct her memories through three-dimensional exploration.
The game does have players solve puzzles, but these puzzles become harder to understand to point out Jean’s struggles with her disease. However, the puzzle-solving element is optional as the main objective is exploration and discovery.
7 The Stanley Parable
Initially a mod for Half-Life 2, The Stanley Parable became a full-fledged game filled with humor and mystery. The game revolves around an office worker named Stanley who opens his office door one day to discover all of his co-workers are gone. This leads to the players being able to explore the office with the help of a narrator telling his story. Each path leads to a completely different conclusion, but regardless of how the path concludes, players are reset from the beginning to try a different path out of the simulation.
Exploring nature is a theme in many walking simulators and Firewatch puts players right in the middle of it. Players take on the role of Henry who takes a job as a fire lookout. While in his tower, he begins to communicate over a walkie-talkie with Delilah, a fellow lookout in another tower. The game’s core mechanic revolves around exploring while dealing with mysterious events that are unfolding. The game is also a social simulation as he builds a friendship with Delilah, with dialogue choices affecting the tone of their conversations as the game goes on.
Considered one of the greatest games of all-time, Journey has elements to it that can be considered a walking simulator. The player takes control of a robed figure in the middle of the desert with the goal of making it to the top of a mountain. While sections of the game are linear, the goal is to explore and find a path to the end through discovery and some minor puzzle-solving. Along the way, players can encounter each other and help but can’t communicate in any method except with musical chimes.
4 Dear Esther
Another mod-turned-game, Dear Esther embraces the nature of minimalist gameplay in a walking simulator. Players are placed on an island located in the Hebrides, Scotland. Players are able to move around freely as they explore but are mainly following a linear path.
Along the way, players listen to a man reading letters that are addressed to his deceased wife. As players go deeper into the game, they learn more about the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death. The game doesn’t give all the answers, though, as some are left to the players’ interpretation.
3 Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
For those looking for more of an adventure game, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture fits the billing. The plot revolves around an English town where all of its inhabitants have disappeared and it’s the goal of the player to find clues to what actually happened to them. Players must follow orbs of light that will guide them and show them hints as to what took place. The game is a spiritual successor to Dear Esther as it was made by the same company in The Chinese Room.
2 The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter
The genre is perfectly structured to implement some horror elements, which is done well in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Players play as Paul Prospero, a paranormal investigator who receives a letter from Ethan Carter, a child who is fascinated by Prospero’s work. Prospero travels to Carter’s hometown only to find out that Ethan is missing. The goal of the game is to investigate his disappearance while also dealing with paranormal events that are happening. Mechanics include being able to use items to recreate events of a crime scene.
1 Gone Home
A perfect encapsulation of minimal interactivity and plenty of exploration, Gone Home is as close to the walking simulator genre as it can get. The game starts out with a young woman named Katie returning to her family home to discover that everyone has gone missing. The game allows the player to explore the home to find items, journals, and more tools to help solve what happened. This is done in a nonlinear way to allow the player to discover pieces of the story at their own time. Certain objects do unlock areas of the house.