Wandering Trails Review: the not so great outdoors
I don’t remember the last time I’ve been hiking, but “the brochure” for Wandering Trails promised “a brief, relaxing escape from your daily routine.” So, thinking I’d get a few gorgeous nature pictures with the trusty, dusty camera, I drove over the river, through the woods, and apparently into a small glacial valley to hike at the Eversden Hills Nature Reserve. Besides, after the stressful week… month… year… uhh, life? I’ve been having, some fresh air, stunning vistas, and good old fashioned exercise should soothe my anxious nerves and make me feel much more relaxed, right?
My trek through Eversden Hills Nature Reserve started off on the right foot. The sun hadn’t cleared the mountains yet, so although it wasn’t the crack of dawn, those warm rays had yet to smile over the landscape. Those mountains were impossibly tall, by the way, but they enveloped the valley in such a way that was reassuring — even comforting — instead of looming. The air felt crisp, stinging my nose as I inhaled that fresh high altitude forest scent (a mixture of pine, rain, and mushrooms with a hint of wildflowers). As the birds chirped and river babbled, I took a deep breath, snapped a test shot with my camera, and stepped towards nature, certain it was going to be a great day.
The first thing I noticed is that I apparently walk really fast. No stopping and smelling the roses for me — the air is brisk and so is my pace. Speaking of roses, the flowers, grass, and other shrubbery is either insanely tall or I am the size of a small animal — perhaps a fox? It was jarring to be so close to the ground, as if I was slithering on my belly instead of walking like the bipedal organism I had been for the past 3 decades. But no matter; although my thoughts were trailing off, the path wasn’t, and I soon found myself at a small pond as the sun crept over the treeline. Truly, when they say the outdoors are great, they’re referring to moments like these.
After a few photos, I pressed forward, the trail appearing to lead to a peak of some sort. Now that would make for a fantastic photo op! The excitement of possibilities leading me further and further into the reserve, I stumbled upon the ruins of some derelict homes, only a crumbling wall or foundational ruins remaining as proof that someone once lived in this wilderness.
It was here when the rains started.
I had heard that the weather was dynamic, but the timing couldn’t have been more perfect — a light rain surely wouldn’t ruin my hike, and I could likely wait out the rain in some sort of hiker’s structure, right? I traipsed through the path towards what appeared to be a firewatch station, hoping to find shelter from the rain.
Unfortunately, my curiosity got the better of me along the way — how could it not, when the signs pointed to what appeared to be Greek ruins? Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet nor hail would stop me from exploring the remnants of an ancient civilization…
…but lightning might.
While it was unclear if the rain truly affected me on my hike, the lightning caused my anxiety to skyrocket. Nowhere felt safe — I quickly backed away from any bodies of water and steered clear of any trees, but lightning would consistently strike the ground in front of me. They say the odds of lightning striking twice are slim to none; how could I hope to explain the miraculous amount of bolts cascading from the heavens above? It was as if Zeus himself was punishing me for daring to gaze upon the rubble that was once his temple, a sight not meant for mere mortals such as I. My heart beating faster, I ran deeper into the reserve, hoping to find shelter in any form to weather out this terrifying storm.
After what felt like several hours, the sky calmed, birdsong replacing the literally shocking sounds of lightning bolts. I let my guard down momentarily to take photos of the flora and fauna, the flowers and rabbits painting a picturesque scene just waiting to be captured by my camera. It was here that I heard a sound I couldn’t place — a crunching sound that sounded… threatening. Following my ears, I soon learned that what I heard was a herd of deer, apparently enjoying a raucous meal of grass and gravel. My breakneck pace didn’t faze them — naturally, as their jaws could crush my questionably sized body following a hearty course of pebbles should they so desire. Surely, there is no place on Earth like Eversden Hills Nature Reserve.
It was at this moment I realized something unsettling — the sun was going down, and it was getting dark. I thought I was going back to my car, but the familiar-looking log told me three times that I had been running in circles instead. The signs I encountered were useless, the red dot indicating where I was nowhere to be found — like me. To make matters worse, the rain had picked back up. I am wet, I am cold, and the wolves howling in the distance make me nervous. The wild is calling, and although I am far too cowardly to answer it, I fear my future is one where I am covered in mud and leaves, unkempt and uncivilized. I will revert to an animalistic existence where I communicate in mostly grunts with the occasional shrieks at would-be predators to scare them off until I master the secrets of fire.
Frantically trying to tell myself Jack London is full of it, I begin to abandon the near-invisible pathway and dart straight towards what I thought to be my best bet to humanity, only to stumble upon one of the most beautiful vistas I’ve ever seen. My quest for civilization coming to a grinding halt, I abandon the hope of finding my car before the sun’s last rays grace me with their presence. I stand, transfixed, as I watch the moon rise above a periwinkle lake and soar across a speckled sky. For a moment, my dreams of rejoining humanity evaporate. I feel like screaming at the moon; instead, I snap out of my deranged insanity and use it to illuminate my path as I continue to sprint in circles.
Whether I was led to Eversden Hills Nature Reserve by unseen forces or doomed to remain in the wilderness after desecrating Zeus’ sacred temple with my presence, I never learned; in fact, I never found my car again, instead opting to return to the main menu to allow one version of me to escape this lush prison. To gain a false sense of closure, I re-entered the reserve from the main menu, gaining consciousness in the parking lot in the wee hours of the morning. Whether I am the same version of myself who earlier ventured out into the wilderness or a new being altogether I am not sure; to test this, I snap a photo with my camera, hoping it ends up in an album with my other photos to prove I was the same. Unfortunately, the photos seem to disappear once they are taken. Perhaps Zeus keeps them, a testament to our sacrilegious trespassing. I again return to the main menu.
Perhaps I am still out there, covered in mud and leaves, screaming at the moon. Perhaps I am standing by my car in the parking lot, waiting for my seemingly normal hiking adventure to begin. Perhaps I am a video game reviewer with an inability to focus on my other tasks, so instead of starting a particularly long assignment I played what I thought would be a relaxing game, only to feel my blood pressure increase sharply as I dodged lightning strikes and frustratingly circled the same fallen log over and over again in an attempt to get home. Perhaps I am all three. It remains a mystery.
One thing I am certain about is that Wandering Trails is a peaceful nature game that unfortunately falls a little short. Some may find this experience soothing; others will suffer. I wanted to enjoy this supposedly relaxing romp, but my time frantically sprinting in circles at dead of night to a cacophony of howling wolves and hooting owls reminded me more of Blair Witch than Eastshade. I cannot recommend this if you have an anxiety disorder or have never played a walking simulator before. Everyone else should be fine though.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Flox Studios; Developer: Flox Studios; Players: 1; Released: December 9, 2021; MSRP: $4.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Wandering Trails: A Hiking Game provided by the publisher.