Welcome to Elk Review: A Trip Where the Emotional Baggage is Already Packed For you
Sometimes, a game comes along that you are just not prepared for. Sure, you watch the trailers, you read the little blurbs on the websites, but now and then, the experience is just wildly beyond what you were expecting. And so it goes with Triple Topping’s Welcome to Elk, a biographical adventure like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
Just Building a Parent, As One Does
Welcome to Elk has players take on the role of Frigg, an eager, young carpenter who has taken an apprenticeship on the eponymous island Elk. The island is fairly small, and the community is tightly knit – everybody knows everybody, and everyone knows everyone’s business. It’s hard to really get too in-depth with the storyline, because the game is fairly short, clocking in at around 3 hours or so. And yet, there’s a lot to experience in such a short amount of time. What I can tell you is that the story tells real tales from real people. Through Frigg’s eyes, you’ll enact actual, lived experiences, sometimes in an uncomfortably intimate manner.
The storytelling in the game might at times feel a bit disjointed, but it somehow works. As you go through experiences that are at times moving, horrifying, disquieting, insane, and somehow everything in-between, the game will cut away to real people telling their stories. The first time it happens, it feels odd, out of place. But as you listen to these people speak, it adds another layer to the experience. The one example I’ll give, which shouldn’t give away too much, is when Frigg finds one of the islanders dead in the snow. This mirrors the story you’ll hear from the recording of the actual person, and it adds a strangely intense sense of realness to an otherwise cartoon-y looking game.
Gameplay in Welcome to Elk is straightforward. You’ll wander around, interact with a few objects here and there, and speak to the islanders now and then. Fairly simple, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Where the gameplay really shines is in the “mini-games” you’ll have to play on occasion. I put that word in quotations, because it’s the closest word I can come up with to describe the experience. I wish I could tell you all more, but it’s so much of the experience that I can’t risk ruining it. Suffice to say, each mini-game is specific to each particular tale you experience, and it really brings each scenario to life.
It’s utterly fascinating that the developers were able to take true stories, from actual living, breathing people, and incorporate them into a video game. Not one of these tales is anything you’d see on TV, or probably even read in a book. And yet, even without the intense drama of primetime television or a blockbuster movie, these stories are intense. At times, anxiety-inducing-ly intense. I don’t often put a trigger warning on things, but I would recommend that if you have any qualms about violent scenes, you may want to do some research before playing. I feel like I have a fairly high threshold, and there were times my chest felt tight and my discomfort reached levels I’ve never felt in a non-horror themed video game.
Don’t Let the Children’s Book Aesthetic Fool You
Aesthetically, Welcome to Elk is… unique. I know that sounds disparaging, and at first blush, I was willing to be overly critical about the game’s visuals. To be blunt, the game has a distinct Where’s Waldo? look to it. I’ll even admit that it was initially a bit off-putting to me. But it really ended up growing on me. I won’t say that I loved it, or that it’s even necessarily good, but it’s oddly fitting. I also really appreciated the way that everything that you can’t interact with was fairly monochromatic, making the relevant bits really stand out. And the music! The ending song is just… damn. Cherry on the weird icing of a bizarre cake. And I mean that in the best way possible.
And the World Spins Madly On
Welcome to Elk is a game that’s hard to quantify. Hell, it’s hard to even accurately describe. Somehow, it manages to be moving, mystifying, upsetting, intriguing, stressful, confusing, enlightening, and probably a dozen other contradictory things. Welcome to Elk doesn’t provide satisfying answers or endings. There are few, if any, likable characters. You’ll experience more trauma than you probably want to in just a few, short hours. And at the end of it all, you’re left clutching at the sharp, jagged shards of other people’s emotions, wondering… what do I do now?
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox Series One, PC; Publisher: Triple Topping; Developer: Triple Topping; Players: 1; Released: February 10th, 2022; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.