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A review of A Highland Song – a journey through the beautiful landscapes and mythical tales of Scotland.


I initially did not enjoy Highland Song, a magical-realist journey through the Scottish Highlands. My first attempt at guiding teenage runaway Moira to her Uncle Hamish’s lighthouse was frustrating and led me to restart the game. I was stranded and lost on the treacherous mountains, enduring harsh winds and rain. I struggled to find useful items like a shelter or snack, instead only collecting lavender and gorse. My misreading of the landscape caused Moira to fall and lose energy. It was a brutal and unpleasant experience.

On my second attempt, I took a different route shortly after leaving Moira’s house. I went through a tunnel under a dam and arrived at the lighthouse just a few days behind schedule. The third time, I arrived in time for Beltane, a festival celebrated in Gaelic culture on May Day. This is when I witnessed the end of the game. On my fourth and fifth tries, I had extra time to spare, so I used it to explore the crags, uncover caves, interact with unfamiliar travelers, and conquer new peaks. I stumbled upon hand-drawn maps hidden in matchboxes, lunchboxes, and old discarded sporrans. I meticulously studied the outline of the hills from each peak to decipher their significance. I was fortunate enough to find shelter when needed, although I did have a mishap where I fell through a bothy floor into another cave.

As, presumably, with real-life hill-climbing, A Highland Song gets more enjoyable the more experienced you are, once you know some of the routes and get used to the discomfort. (I say this based on absolutely no experience, because you wouldn’t catch me dead up a Munro. Or more likely you would catch me dead, as I have no sense of direction and zero survival skills.) In this sense, A Highland Song lines up with reality. The hills are forbidding, peaks jutting up like broken teeth, dotted with the ruined cottages of the crofters who were driven out centuries ago, dense with forgotten stories. You need considerable resilience to make it through.

It took me a considerable amount of time to become familiar with the landscape and distinguish between areas that are climbable and those that are not. Even after I got the hang of it, Moira would occasionally jump towards a feature that appeared to be in the foreground or background, causing her to fall off a rock face. The art style, which resembles a painting, is visually stunning and captures the essence of the Highlands with its rough brushstrokes that bring to mind bracken and heather. However, it is not always clear where the boundaries of objects lie or which paths are passable. While cairns and posts typically mark the way forward, this is not always the case. Sometimes they lead you back and other times you’ll reach a promising location, only to realize you don’t have the necessary map scrap and are unable to proceed. In these situations, it is best to backtrack and find an alternative route.

A Highland Song video game screenshot

It is beneficial that, regardless of your location or the adverse weather conditions, there will always be something new to discover in these mountains. The plot draws upon significant Scottish history and folklore, gradually revealing lines of poetry, flashbacks, and pieces of Jacobean-era history. Scotland is not just a backdrop in this game, but rather the central focus – from the shape of the peaks to the soundtrack consisting of folk music, wind, and weather, to the wildlife and the mystical quality of light. Moira’s natural ability for colorful language adds to the immersive experience. The writing and delivery also offer enjoyment for Scots, as seen in a conversation between Moira and a statue where she comments on the statue’s posh accent. The statue promptly replies, “I’m from Edinburgh.”

It took me a few attempts to fully grasp this, but A Highland Song is not just about surviving the mountains – it’s about truly experiencing them and their harsh beauty. It has sparked a newfound interest in the Trossachs, a nearby area that I have always seen as simply a picturesque landscape. Now, when I look at the lochs and peaks, I envision a resilient individual trekking through them, seeking the limits of their world – and I can’t help but wonder what that would be like.

  • The release date for A Highland Song is December 5th, and it will be priced at £13.49.

Source: theguardian.com