Welcome To Elk is a title that seems utterly bizarre on first look but is deceptively simple underneath. It is a game that goes out of its way to show you that every single person has a story. Every single person has a quirk. Every single person has at least one key moment in their lives that could be considered as a life defining moment. Its this that Welcome To Elk dives into through a cleverly woven story.
You play as Frigg, Elk’s latest inhabitant. She’s come over for work experience and the remote and sparse Elk feels alien to her. A stranger in a new home. Thankfully, the vast majority of Elk’s cast will be making Frigg welcome and as you start to integrate into their community (via the pub no less) they will open up to you about key moments in their lives. Often, the key moment is playing out right in front of you. Welcome to Elk adds in a dream like supernatural element too as when Frigg goes to bed at the end of each day (a day is like a book chapter in this game), she has a weird fever dream. After each dream she receives a message in a bottle afterwards on her kitchen table. Why are they coming? Will she ever get the work experience she came for? Is Elk even real at all?
What makes Elk fascinating is its writing. It will frequently talk to you, with you, at you and even have weird Adaptation-esque moments where the game turns inside itself and starts deconstructing its own messages. Each character has an arc and they are largely based from true stories. These stories are then told in video messages from the people that experienced them. It reminded me a little of the game Never Alone, where you unlocked historical artefacts. You experience the story in a crazy Elk setting and then enjoy the real story told by real humans too. All the characters are great because they are rounded. Some are shady, others are emotional, some are guarded, one is entirely loopy. You’ll naturally gravitate to some more than others but seeing how each of them react off of each other is key to Elk feeling like a vibrant, lived in world and experience. It is something the game does well.
Welcome To Elk is primarily a walk and talk game but there are many mini games thrown in to keep you amused. From drunk karaoke rhythm games to smash the bottle mini golf and a horrifying build a parent face on a balloon, they are fun, well implemented and rarely repeat. You’ll play something once in the story and never again and they rarely have a sway in the story or block your progress. The developers wisely chop up the story with them but never create a barrier from continuing. The graphics are also going to be highly divisive but they absolutely nail the merger of graphics and sound. The musical soundtrack is a kooky circus of clumsy comedy folk that will happily use sound effects and kazoos alongside the ukulele. This intentionally haphazard sound then gives extra character to the graphics and as a pairing, I was completely sold on the look and feel of the game. No voice acting is present but in a way that helps here because of how the soundtrack works.
With all good stories comes emotion and this is also something Welcome to Elk nails. You’ll laugh, you’ll feel regret, remorse, confusion and sadness. The way the game is able to balance a whimsy wondering of life and poignant moments in one scene and then have you drunkenly trying to steer Frigg home 5 minutes later is fantastic. It is a real tour de force of writing and delivery.
Welcome To Elk is a unique and engaging story that has a lot of dark humour, poignant moments and thoughts on exactly how storytelling is integrated into being human. A joy to play, an emotional rollercoaster and with variety to keep you from ever slowing down, Elk is somewhere you should visit soon.
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