The term walking simulator has started springing up in the last few years.
Some people prefer narrative-driven adventure, but “walking simulator” is useful in describing a particular genre of games that seems to have become more prevalent in recent years. It’s the kind of game that’s somewhere between a point and click adventure and a narrative experience; a game that requires some input from you – usually some light puzzle solving – but mostly, you’ll spend your time travelling through environments while the story unfolds around you.
Keep reading to see our favourite walking simulator games on Xbox One. If you’re a fan of this genre, then these nine really need to be in your games library.
1What Remains of Edith Finch
Telling the story of the titular Edith Finch, a young woman returning to her childhood home for the first time in several years, What Remains of Edith Finch is a touching adventure filled with twists and turns. At its most basic, it fits perfectly into the walking simulator genre: Edith simply moves around her old home and its grounds, an infinitely interesting place that begs exploration and discovery. But at each room she stops in, she’ll learn more about the resident – a family member now deceased – and through a creative flashback, we’ll learn what happened to them.
What Remains of Edith Finch mixes genres and methods of storytelling, leaving us with an experience that’s emotional, captivating and entirely worthy of our attention. Few so-called walking simulators on Xbox One come close to Edith Finch – it really is a special adventure.
2Fragments of Him
Fragments of Him is a beautiful game about love, loss, and growing up. With a simple yet striking art style, it’s impossible not to get drawn into the sometimes mundane, sometimes moving – and always very relatable – stories that Fragments of Him tells.
Told from a number of perspectives, the game is about a young man called Will. You’re put in control of his grandmother, his ex-girlfriend, his current boyfriend and Will himself to discover fragments of his life as he grows up, moves away to university and discovers his sexuality. It’s an extremely moving experience that anybody would be hard pushed not to relate to in some shape or form.
Set in the late 1980s, Firewatch puts you in the shoes of Henry, a park ranger stationed in Shoshone National Forest for the summer. The game is entirely from his perspective, alone in a massive park with not much to do besides be on the watch out for a forest fire. His only means of communication is with Delilah, his supervisor, over a walkie talkie.
Throughout the game we learn a little more about Henry and the difficult life decisions he’s made to bring him to where he is. The meat of the game, though, lies in discovering strange goings-on in the forest. We learn of a past lookout and his son who mysteriously disappeared, and a group of teenagers seemingly causing trouble in the park who also seem to disappear. Throughout Firewatch‘s short play time, these events unravel and Henry delves deeper into the strange happenings. Like all walking simulators, what is and isn’t real is often thrown into question, and its the mystery that keeps us hooked right until the end.
Gone Home feels at times like a horror. When you’re playing it for the first time, you’re almost expecting something to jump out around every corner. It’s much more simple than that though. Gone Home, often considered to be the gem of the walking simulator genre, puts you in the shoes of Kaitlin, a young woman who’s returned to her family home after being away for a while. Expecting her family to be there to greet her, she’s faced with an empty house, and the game plays out with you exploring in order to figure out what’s happened to everyone.
It’s the little details of Gone Home that make the game stand out; set in the mid 90s, its full of nostalgic nods to our childhoods; VHS recordings, cassette mix tapes, Street Fighter. Through found notes and recordings, Kaitlin pieces together a picture of her family while she’s been away. It’s a very simple game with no major plot twists or turns, but being grounded very much in reality, it’s loaded with emotion and nostalgia – and that alone makes it worthwhile. Without a doubt, Gone Home is one of the best walking simulator games available on Xbox One.
5Dear Esther: Landmark Edition
Dear Esther is often said to be the first ‘walking simulator’, and any game that has come after it is often considered to be a Dear Esther clone. True or not, Dear Esther is still an important game in the genre, and one that set a very high bar in terms of visual and production value.
Dear Esther: Landmark Edition, as it’s known on Xbox One, puts you on a small island. You have no idea who you are, or why you’re there. The only story that plays out is told by a narrator, whose voice kicks in as you pass certain points in the environment. It’s a story shrouded in mystery, and right up until the end, it’s never quite clear what’s going on. A beautiful environment to wander around certainly helps this short experience be more engaging.
The Park is psychological horror-meets-walking simulator. You play as Lorraine, a single mother who’s accompanied her young son to an amusement park for the day. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite go to plan, and what should be a fun day at the fair turns into a literal nightmare for her. Her son, Callum, goes missing, and the game follows Lorraine as she frantically searches for him around the suddenly abandoned park.
It’s only a short experience, but as The Park unfolds, so does Lorraine’s mental state, and it’s not long before you’re left questioning what is and isn’t real. It’s a cleverly told story filled with horror and mystery that will keep you hooked until you reach the end.
Virginia is a bizarre game. A very bizarre game, actually. It can flick between multiple scenes with barely a chance to blink, and its plot jumps around so much that it can be hard to keep up. It’s rather brilliant though, and its unique method of storytelling – that often feels like an episode of Twin Peaks – means it stands out again most other walking simulator games.
You take on the role of Anne Tarver, an FBI agent investigating a missing person in the town of Kingdom. What seems like a very grounded premise eventually turns to the supernatural, and you’re never quite sure what’s going on. The fact that Virginia contains absolutely no dialogue whatsoever makes it entirely unique – albeit a little harder to follow – but also means its much more open to interpretation than other games.
8Layers of Fear
Layers of Fear is perhaps more pure horror than it is a walking simulator, but it fits into the tropes of this genre to a T. Just stay away from it if you’re not a fan of jump scares.
Layers of Fear unravels a mysterious story as you explore the abandoned home of a painter. You’re never quite sure what’s waiting for you around the next corner, but if you’re brave enough to work through the horror, there’s a brilliant environment to explore with a dark and captivating story to unravel. If you’re a fan of horror and own a Xbox One, then Layers of Fear should definitely be in your library.
9Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition
Walking simulator isn’t quite the right term for Three Fourths Home; you’re driving a car through very basic scenery rather than wandering through well-realised locations. But in every other sense, Three Fourths Home very much fits into the genre.
In Three Fourths Home, you’re placed in the role of a young woman who finds herself back living with her parents after a tough few months at college. You’re out driving – clearing your head – but the weather’s turned bad, and a hurricane is on its way. The game plays out via phone conversations with your family as you try to reach home in time. You’ll finish the game in less than an hour, but it’s poignant and powerful in its simplicity.