Darkwood surprised me. On the face of it, nothing in particular leaps out at you, you feel like you have seen this game before and you would be forgiven for thinking so. Played from a top-down perspective, you will constantly have to manage your resources, scavenge what you can and fight back in the hostile environment that you find yourself in. Countless indie titles out there look and play similar, but once you get past the opening section, you will start to understand it better and realize it is different.
I initially got off to a bad start with Darkwood; I honestly cannot remember waiting as long for a game to load as I did here. On the loading screen, it even says be patient, as if it’s testing me before the game has even begun. Luckily, once it finally got underway, it gripped me instantly with an eerie and attention-grabbing opening scene. I certainly was not going to put this one down in a hurry.
The start of the game also painted a slightly different picture as to what I thought the entirety of the game would have been like. The opening portion is linear and only allows you to search through a small, singular building, whereas the rest of the game is much more open and allows you to feel a bit less unrestricted in terms of what you can do. Of course, the beginning of the game does act as a tutorial of sorts, but truth be told; Darkwood keeps its tutorials to a bare minimum. It wants and encourages you to work the game out for yourself, barely giving you anything to go off.
This will naturally mean that for some players, the frustration will grow quite quickly, as the difficulty curve early on can be brutal as you don’t really know what you’re supposed to do. Once you are a few (in-game) days in, you start to grasp just how things work, which things do not work, and generally, what you should be focusing most of your time on. Once those things click for you, you will see the title come into its own. This isn’t to say it’s not still difficult because believe me, the further in you get, the harder and more stressful the entire experience becomes.
During the day, you will set off from your hideout in the hope of finding new points of interest which will fill in new places on your map. Most importantly, however, is the collecting of resources. The resources you gather can and will have a bearing on how well you do when nighttime falls. When this happens, you will be warned to return to the hideout, ideally in much better shape than when you left and prepare for the worst. You must start the generator to power the lights, board up windows and get ready for battle.
All will be silent until you hear the unnerving sound of footsteps outside and creaky doors opening. Just because you might feel safe, does not mean you are. Enemies will make their way in and try to ambush you. The best way to deal with such a threat would be to find a corner so you know that nothing can be approaching behind you. It is hard to fully appreciate how vulnerable you feel during these sequences. For a horror fan, that is the best compliment I can give.
The resources you gather up during the daytime sequences is one of the biggest aspects of the game. Every component you pick up in the world is stored in a backpack and whenever you open this, the game doesn’t stop, leaving you very exposed. These items and components you find can then be used to construct better items, in the hope of creating items that will give you a better chance of survival, which is the name of the game after all. The only problem with this is you will come across a lot of utter garbage, but you do not know if its garbage or not because you have no idea if it can be used to craft something better later on. Therefore, you will find yourself hoarding a lot of these resources when in reality, all you are really doing is clogging up your backpack and being able to carry less of the good stuff.
While the birds-eye view helps you see the general environment such as walls or trees, it doesn’t mean you see everything. Similar to first-person games, you can only see what your character’s eyes can see. Here, you have a cone-like field of vision and it works really well. Usually, in these kinds of games, everything is visible, so if you are near to an important item, you know you are. In Darkwood, you might be stood right next to it, but until you turn around and look at it, you simply would not know.
This field of vision means that whenever you turn and face something, a realistic shadow will form, if you shine it at a tree or through a door or window, it looks just as it would do in real life. The dynamic lighting effects that come with this, coupled with the dark sepia tones and creepy music are spectacular and it all adds up to not just the believability of the world, but to the eeriness, the fear and the sense of vulnerability. The sound design is top-notch too. From the rustling of bushes outside to the creaking of floorboards, lingering noises are present all throughout, but most of the time you will have no idea where they are coming from. Yet another aspect that will be haunting you and keeping you on your toes
After a somewhat shaky start to the game, which included a steep learning curve, I found myself enthralled in Darkwood and I did not want to put it down. From its brilliant tension building, atmosphere and sense of vulnerability for the player, it has better horror elements than most AAA horror titles nowadays. If you are into your survival horror games, you do not want to miss this one, despite one or two missteps along the way.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Crunching Koalas
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