Hey, yo, Yawhg
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 teeth-breaking, weird name. “Just what on Earth is a Yawhg?”, you’re probably saying to yourself. Well, sorry to say, but 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! As the player, alone or in a team of two to four, you 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, which is the catalyst for careful decision-making with just a pinch of introspection.
But first, allow me to lay out 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 curve ball your way: for example, you may choose to tend to the sickly 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 of time passing every time you make a vital, game-changing decision.
The story remains interesting, thanks in no small part to the various quirks and random branches. Ironically, some of the best bits come after the Yawhg’s fatalistic arrival, which is alluded to and considerably hyped throughout your relatively short campaign. I won’t divulge too much in the interest of keeping this review spoiler-free, but goodness, it’s some of the finest existentialism I’ve ever encountered in a game, and I’m a pretty old and cynical button-pusher. 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, give or take.
The more observant among you might have noticed that earlier I alluded to multiplayer. It may seem weird, but it’s true: you can indeed 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, as well as debating the potential consequences of each other’s actions and choices.
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. It’s quite an ironic choice if you think about it, especially in contrast to the otherwise highly fatalistic theme prevalent throughout. On the audio side of things, the music is gentle and soothing and adds to the game’s overall sense of melancholy. Casting the game in an archaic, medieval-like 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. It almost seems like a fairy tale for adults, only swapping out violence and blood for a crippling theme of existential crisis.
The Yawhg is definitely not an easy game to recommend. It’s certainly 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 whose actual status as a game is up for debate. All the same, The Yawhg a noteworthy experience that will provide much amusement 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. If you have some friends to play it with, then it’s absolutely a must. Head on over to its Steam page to procure your copy.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Damian Sommer ; Developer: Damian Sommer , Emily Carroll ; Players: single-player, local co-op ; Released: 30th of May, 2013.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a purchased copy of The Yawhg.