GAME NAME: The Yawhg
DEVELOPER(S): Damian Sommer, Emily Carroll
PUBLISHER(S): Damian Sommer
PLATFORM(S): Steam (Windows)
GENRE(S): RPG, Adventure, Indie
RELEASE DATE(S): May 30th, 2013
Choice and predetermination: they’re increasingly popular themes in gaming. And why not? Humankind has been pondering their nature ever since we left the trees and figured there was probably more to life than picking lice out of each other’s hair. But what happens when you already know an outcome, and you only have minimal control over the events that lead up to it? Well, that’s a whole different game, literally, and it’s called The Yawhg.
First off, you’re probably wondering about that weird name. “Just what the hell is a Yawhg?”, you’re saying. Well, the game remains extremely vague about it. It’s apparently a disaster, a catastrophe of some form or another and its arrival heralds great calamity and destruction for everybody in the world. It will come to pass in a mere six weeks, and only you, dear player, are aware of it. Players (alone or in a team of two to four) control a handful of denizens and guide them in their lives as the doomsday clock gradually counts down. What relevance will your decisions have when the Yawhg finally arrives, and how will you impact a post-Yawhg world? Therein lies the rub, the catalyst for careful decision-making and a pinch of introspection.
But first, the basics. Once your characters are selected, you guide them along a simple, one-screen map and decide where they’ll go and what they’ll do next. Every locale will throw a curveball your way; for example, you may choose to tend to patients at the local hospital, only for a woman to give birth to a demonic baby. Your choices and responses will ultimately determine a roster of statistics such as health, wealth and mental powers. Events pan out much in the style of a turn-based game, with a week passing every time you make a vital decision.
Søren to new heights
The story remains interesting, thanks in no small part to the various quirks and random branches, though ironically some of the best bits come after the Yawhg’s fatalistic arrival. I won’t divulge too much in the interest of keeping this review spoiler-free, but damn, it’s some of the finest existentialism I’ve encountered in a game to date. Unfortunately, the experience is entirely too short; with a two-character minimum, it results in little more than a dozen moves which can be completed in about 10 minutes.
The observant among you will notice that earlier I alluded to multiplayer. It may seem weird, but it’s true: you can tackle this game with some of your mates, though you’re all going to be confined to the same screen and input devices. Strangely, this seems to be the preferred way to play, with extra players providing many more moves that extend the experience. It also inevitably leads to a slower, more thoughtful game as all players will be involved in decision-making and debating the consequences of each other’s actions.
Shades of things to come
Fundamentally, the game is played out through a series of flash cards and text. There isn’t much in the way of animation, but the art style is quite lovely, invoking memories of illustrations that are found in children’s books. Quite ironic too and especially in contrast to the otherwise highly fatalistic theme prevalent throughout. The music is gentle and soothing and adds to the game’s overall sense of melancholy. Casting the game in an archaic, medieval-esque world, complete with old-style taverns and the presence of magic, may seem like a slightly clichéd afterthought, but in all honestly, The Yawhg‘s theme couldn’t have worked out better in any other setting.
The Yawhg is a difficult game to recommend. It’s engrossing and the presentation can’t be faulted, but the extremely short experience makes the price tag seem a tad steep. It’s also one of “those” games who actual status as a game is up for debate. All the same, it’s a noteworthy experience that will definitely amuse you in the time you have with it, however brief it may be. The penny-counters among you might want to wait until this one goes on sale, though.