Revered by the industry and fans alike, walking simulator games are the next big thing in the world of video games. Oh, wait. That’s not right. It’s one of the most lauded genres in gaming, largely, we suspect, because it’s void of massive explosions, frantic button-mashing, cool catchphrases, and other staples of recent AAA games.
While walking simulators aren’t the most well-liked, there have been plenty that deserve more praise than condemnation. They may not benefit from deep gameplay, but they don’t need to. Rich stories, subtle plot twists, and engaging environments are what drive this genre, and these best walking simulator games show that you don’t need to pull off combos to thoroughly enjoy yourself.
The Best Walking Simulator Games
15. That Dragon, Cancer
Developer: Numinous Games Publisher: Numinous Games
Few games are based on a true story. Even fewer games have a story that leaves players contemplating their own lives. That Dragon, Cancer ticks off both boxes with an experience that is important for all to sit down and play. The team at Numinous Games put together this love letter dedicated to Joel Green, a young boy that lost a battle to cancer.
That Dragon, Cancer is a visual experience that doesn’t give players much to do, but it’s so easy to get drawn into the story and characters that gameplay isn’t really missed. There are games memorable for their mechanics, those for their visuals, and those that leave a mark for their story. That Dragon, Cancer may not have the mechanics, but the latter will dig right into your heart and refuse to let go for as long as you can remember it.
Developer: Giant Squid Publisher: 505 Games
Brought to life by the art director of Journey and Flower, ABZU continues to put visuals first with a stunning adventure that spans the expanse of the world’s mysterious oceans. Watch as a vibrant underwater world comes to life in front of your eyes, with some of Mother Nature’s most exotic and fascinating creatures joining you on your journey.
Take control of the Diver and swim through the ocean, performing acrobatics as you happen upon unique species of whale, dolphin, shark, and other fish. Interact with schools of fish that number in the thousands, watching as they react to your every move and scatter when predators are near. Will you be able to uncover the ancient secrets that lie at the bottom of the sea? Or will you succumb to the dangers that haunt the depths?
Technically, this may be more of a “swimming” simulator than a walking one, but it still fits.
Developer: The Fullbright Company Publisher: The Fullbright Company
Wouldn’t you love to learn how a crew of the greatest minds in space lived with one another aboard a high-tech space station? Tacoma provides you with that opportunity, sending you through the nooks and crannies of Tacoma, uncovering clues and details about how the crew members interacted and lived. Explore the station, physically and through digital recordings, to see what things are going to be like in the year 2088.
Tacoma is all about the narrative, which explores the effects of isolation on the six-member crew. Through fully voiced and animated segments, players are immersed in the small world that thrived on Tacoma. Interact with the AR scenes to uncover a multi-path story, fast-forwarding and rewinding to ensure you don’t miss out on anything that unfolded on Tacoma.
Superpowered elite soldiers. Disgraced detectives with an impossible eye for detail. Supernatural warriors of light. Ordinary structural analysts. These are the roles we love to play when we purchase a new game. Yeah, we said ordinary structural analyst, as if you haven’t been dreaming to step into the shoes of one since your an adolescent.
In INFRA, you can finally live your dream in a game that lets you solve mechanical and electrical puzzles by, well, it’s a walking simulator so you’ll be doing a lot of walking. While you’d probably like to be a more involved structural analyst in the midst of a structural collapse. Truth-be-told, however, you don’t land on a “best walking simulator” list by being boring, and INFRA is far from boring. It’s a visual treat that sends you exploring through a building threatening to fall right on your head.
As you can imagine, for a walking simulator, that’s pretty intense.
Developer: Variable State Publisher: 505 Games
At the core of many walking simulator games, there is one common element – some sort of secret or hidden truth. As FBI agent Anne Tarver, players travel to a small town in the great state of Virginia to investigate reports of a missing person. It’s clear right off the bat someone somewhere in Burgess County knows where the kid is, but finding out who is no simple task.
Tarver must mentally battle the withdrawn citizens of Kingdom, VA as she tries to shine a light on the sinister forces at work. The more she talks to those around her, the more it’s clear that everyone has an agenda. Whether that agenda involves a missing kid is the real question, though it’s one that will send Tarver and her partner Maria Halperin on a quest that will change them forever.
10. Ether One
Developer: White Paper Games Publisher: White Paper Games
The best walking simulators feel more like fulfilling adventures than actual simulations of people walking. The latter is a boring chore while the former either leaves you feeling accomplished or contemplating the paths you’ve taken in life. In Ether One, it’s all about branching paths as you explore an open world and deal with the realities of a fragile mind.
What most walking simulators can bank on is the visual style. Ether One is an intriguing experience, but it’s also a delightfully attractive game that finds a way to tell a story about dementia without cheapening the realities of the disorder. The deeper you get in Ether One, you’ll realize just how easily the mind can fail and leave us questioning in our realities.
Hey, nobody said the best walking simulator games had to be upbeat.
Developer: The Chinese Room Publisher: The Chinese Room
Dear Esther started in a place you’d never expect to be part of the evolution of a walking simulator. We’ll give you a hint. You’ll be highly anticipating the third entry until you’re too old to play video games.
That’s right, this atmospheric trip to an isolated island is a Half-Life 2 mod. Not quite the sci-fi thriller that Half-Life is, Dear Esther takes a slower approach. One that pits you not against evil government factions and headcrabs, but of the mysteries of Esther and the island she summoned you to.
Dear Esther will have you questioning everything before your eyes. I sit all real or simply a delusion? As you uncover the semi-randomized story, you’ll be able to piece together the truth behind your shattered memories slowly.
8. The Unfinished Swan
Developer: Giant Sparrow Publisher: SCEA
A swan doesn’t sound like the most intriguing focus of a video game. So, it’s probably good there is more to The Unfinished Swan than, well, an unfinished swan.
Instead, you’ll explore a bizarre kingdom that’s been left incomplete. On the hunt to find the King who left it to sit, players meet a swan that winds up being their guide for an incredible journey. Along the way, you’ll create unique works of art, that bring the clean slate of a world to life.
The gameplay is simple, tasking players to toss black ink balls around to uncover hidden terrain. There isn’t much to it, which is why The Unfinished Swan finds itself being critiqued as a walking simulator. At the very least, it’s one of the best walking simulator games out there, so that’s something, right?
7. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
Developer: The Chinese Room Publisher: SCEA
In the wake of a mysterious mass disappearance, a small town is left with the chore of figuring out how to move on without their loved ones and clear answers. Scattered lights found throughout the English village unravel not just the truth of what unfolded, but also how the lives of its inhabitants intertwined. Amidst the personal stories, there is a tale of tragedy as you learn about the very real horrors that dwindled the population.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is about exploration and discovering truths, though it’s pretty easy to get lost in the grassy parks, homes that are intricately decorated to showcase individual personalities, and the abandoned small businesses that once helped the town survive. Beautifully rendered, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is as much a visual treat as it is a narrative one.
Developer: Campo Santo Publisher: Panic Campo Santo
Wyoming. In the history of video gaming, there have been maybe three or four games set in this mountainous state. Luckily, one of them is player-favorite The Last of Us, so Firewatch is in good company.
Set in 1989, 24 years before the cordyceps epidemic sweeps the world in a completely unrelated game, players take on the role of Henry. After retreating to the backcountry of Wyoming, the isolated man takes it upon himself to watch for fires that may threaten the wilds beneath his mountainous abode. As Henry finds, life can never be that simple, and he finds himself drawn into a mysterious journey through the very forests he hoped to protect.
As the description states, Firewatch is a game about “adults having adult conversations about adult things.” Getting your mind out of the gutter, it’s clear that Campo Santo wanted to appeal to an older market with this exciting walking simulator. The decisions you have to make and the revelations uncovered along the way shape out a thrilling mystery with a narrative shaped by your actions.
5. Layers of Fear
Developer: Bloober Team SA Publisher: Aspyr
There isn’t much to Layers of Fear when it comes to gameplay, which makes its story that much more important.
Being a horror game, it already has the edge over many walking simulators. The minds at Bloober Team used this to their advantage to keep players enthralled as they delve deeper into the fractured mind of an unnamed painter. Exploration is marked by moments of terror and unease in a game that’s as psychedelic as it is atmospheric.
The story is a haunting tale that follows a tortured artist hellbent on completing his masterpiece. While the painting is a key component to the story, there is something much more personal hidden beneath this horror story. Sure, you’ll do a lot of walking in Layers of Fear, but you’ll take each step with hesitation as you anticipate the next scare or freakout.
4. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Developer: The Astronauts Publisher: The Astronauts
There is only one thing detective Paul Prospero could do when he received a strange letter from young Ethan Carter. He packed up his gear and his curiosities and made for the isolated town of Red Creek Valley. Upon his arrival, he finds that the boy has vanished and his letter led him into a murder mystery that may be far more grizzly than it originally seems.
Enthralled by the occult and the supernatural, Prospero finds his ability to talk to the dead comes in handy on his search for Carter. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter relies heavily on atmosphere and mood, replacing jump scares with the real horrors that come with a missing child.
The Astronauts opted for a game of exploration and observation, though a few puzzles do block Prospero’s path to the answers he seeks. What he may find beneath the pile of bodies in Red Creek could change him forever.
Developer: The Fullbright Company Publisher: The Fullbright Company
“Going home” is a concept so many of us try to avoid. For the holidays, for Spring Break, for any sort of lull in our work or schooling, the last thing we want to do is make the dreaded trip back to our home towns. The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home reminds us why we try so hard to avoid returning to our childhood abodes.
On June 7th, 1995, we arrive on the doorstep of a place that’s far too familiar. As we turn the doorknob and slowly step through the door, we expect sounds of jubilation and surprise. Instead, we’re met with an ominous and impossible silence.
Where are the joyous cries? The hugs? The exclamations of a family reunited after months? The empty abode is just the first mystery we’re tasked with unraveling in this immersive narrative adventure.
With no puzzles and no fighting, Gone Home allows players to investigate their home at their pacing, exploring every inch while invading the privacy of all to uncover what happened.
What does remain of Edith Finch? According to developer Giant Sparrow, it’s not a big family. Through a slow-paced adventure, players will uncover the truth behind the ominous title.
Set across multiple episodes, What Remains of Edith Finch is a beautifully told tale of mystery that aims to answer the question: What happened to the Finch bloodline?
The only surviving member of the Finch family, Edith, under player control, searches through her family’s history to uncover the truth. Along the way, players live out the last day of each family member’s life, which takes us from the early 20th century to more modern times.
Even if the story doesn’t grip you (and we doubt that’s a possibility), What Remains of Edith Finch is a gorgeous and stunning experience that makes the term “walking simulator” not all that negative.
1. The Stanley Parable
Developer: Galactic Cafe Publisher: Galactic Cafe
In 2011, an interactive narrative walking simulator hit the market, using elements from Half-Life 2 to create a world that would ultimately evolve into a full-on, stand-alone remake two years later.
The Stanley Parable puts players in the shoes of Stanley, an office worker who’s job is to monitor data on a computer screen. With his brain trained to press his little button and ask no questions, Stanley is left with no direction when that computer screen goes blank. So he sets off to explore the office building.
Stanley’s story unfolds with every action players make. A narrator tries to guide the narrative, but with most branching paths, the story expands and alters. For a walking simulator, it’s a surprise that The Stanley Parable initially offered six endings. It’s even more surprising that the HD stand-alone remake was able to tack on an additional 16.
The Stanley Parable is the definition of a walking simulator, but it’s a charming experience that mimics the tone and comedic style of things like Portal and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The result is a game worth playing to achieve all 22 endings.