Let me preface this review by saying, I don’t think I have ever played a game like this. From the lively presentation to the unexpected outcomes of its stories, it definitely stands proud amongst various other experiences.
To give you the simple version, Welcome to Elk is an isometric adventure game, where you control your character with the staple WASD controls, and interact with objects and characters with space, frequently engaging in conversation or note-reading.
However, to give you a more elaborate explanation, it is a poignant reminder that humans are a closed book of stories, both of their best and worst experiences. It’s what makes us unique but connected with each other.
No matter how different the stories, they all distil into kindred emotions that form connections between our past encounters. Some might mistake the game for a simple walk and talk experience, where you go somewhere, interact with something, read a bunch of text and then call it a day. However, if that was the case, it would not have been influential in forming a favourable opinion from most players.
Welcome to Elk follows Frigg, who has arrived at the behest of her dad to study under his old carpenter friend. She quickly realises however, that it is the last thing she will get to do, instead often being swept away by the cautious and fantastical tales of Elk’s Inhabitants, some of which, hide dark secrets.
Some of these are humorous, like involving an alcoholic who keeps jumping ship (quite literally) if the boat runs out of beer. Others are a bit more grim, such as the tale of finding a stiff body devoid of life in the harsh snow. What really makes these memorable, is that they are inspired by real-life accounts, the best of which are from the developer’s own relatives.
In fact, after playing specific stories, you are gifted with a live recording of a person retelling the original tale. It’s a touching mechanic that had me listening with emphatetic awe. However, what makes these stories really engaging are the quirky mini-games associated with them.
Some of the most unique stories have different mini-games which are themed around the tale you are playing through. As an example, there’s one where you have to fish for beer bottles that have fallen overboard and another where you play mini-golf in a rich man’s backyard.
The mini-golf was mostly my favourite mini-game, as it wasn’t just a regular hitting of golf-balls into the target, but was something that humorously escalated. It started as you’d expect, but I soon found myself throwing the club itself, or even the flag-pin right into the ball.
Some of these might seem straightforward, but their sheer unpredictability makes them much more memorable and entertaining. Best of all, these always fit well with the tale you are playing.
However, don’t be deceived by the colourful art style and lighthearted mini-games, as this is definitely not a game for the kids. Welcome to Elk has elements of our grim reality to it, where some of the stories tackle serious matters such as death and harassment, and some dialogue even have expletives in them.
This foreboding element of the game is further intensified with the almost Lynchian levels of wall-breaking story presentation. With eerie dream sequences and the ambiguous ending, it makes you wonder if it has taken particular references from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
That too, was about a newcomer who arrives in an idyllic town hiding dark secrets behind its beautiful facade, haunting him with curious dreams. Similarly, the ending will leave you scratching your head as theories pop into your mind of what might have happened.
Whilst I did love that it made the game more interesting, it did feel at times if the mood was all over the place. This is further amplified by the fact that you can complete the game in one sitting, as it took me a little over three hours to complete it. Because of this, it did feel as some of the more heavy stories weren’t given enough room to breathe before throwing you into a completely different scenario.
It wasn’t a huge problem, as the stories themselves were so interesting that I was actively awaiting to experience the next one. Not to mention, the mini-games kept you immersed in the tales than just making you a passive observer.
The only gripe I had with the mini-games sadly was with the controls, as it threw everything onto the keyboard. It wouldn’t have been an issue if it wasn’t for the drag and drop centric controls of the mini-games.
It also would have made more sense to be able to control the cursor with your mouse rather than WASD keys. Fortunately, the game doesn’t overstay its welcome, which makes this short-coming a bit more forgivable.
Lastly, I have to mention how memorable the music was, as it utilised a wide pallete of instruments to accompany the varying mood and situations in-game. It’s something that I can definitely see myself listening to on its own.
Overall, for less than $15/£12, you will get a solid three hours of gameplay that is filled to the brim with eye-catching presentation, attention-grabbing stories and immersive mini-games. These days you can easily spend the same on a much shorter film, which makes this package even more enticing.
Welcome to Elk is a rare game that’s unlike any other. It is a buffet of experiences, where even though the mixture of individual dishes leaves an odd aftertaste, it does not make the overall meal less appetising. If you love games with great stories full of real emotions, then this is unmistakably a game to get!