I think it was YouTuber Markiplier who recently said that a game doesn’t have to have amazing graphics to be terrifying. I wasn’t familiar with DARKWOOD during its life on PC but when it made its way to consoles, it definitely piqued my interest. With such simplistic graphics and style, there was no way that DARKWOOD could possibly be that scary. Right?…. RIGHT? Yeah, so as usual, I was incorrect and found a truly terrifying experience for the senses.
DARKWOOD was developed and published by Acid Wizard Studio and first released in 2017. This top down survival-horror game was originally only released on Steam but has since been picked up by PS4, Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch. The intensely atmospheric and moderately open-world game is single-player with an ending that changes based on your decisions in the game and the ways you help other characters and NPCs during your playthrough. That means that no two playthroughs are exactly alike, except for the Prologue.
The story follows you, “The Stranger.” The land is being overtaken by an ever-expanding dark forest that harbors a virus. This virus turns those infected into horrible monsters that come out at night. There was a group called “The Outsiders” that created hidden tunnels to get in and out of the forest but most of The Outsiders have been killed or have run. During the day, you take your time to explore your area, gather supplies, build and rebuild doors and barricade windows to keep yourself safe when the night falls. There is a day/night mechanic in game, although it doesn’t make TOO much difference visually. DARKWOOD is right – this game is dark. You are only able to see what’s right in front of the beams of your flashlight. And nighttime gets ever darker.
This is a true survival-horror. The difficulty and speed of collecting items to build and fend for yourself takes time. Gameplay is judged by days, and each day you survive without dying means better items can be traded with a strange trader that pops into your shelter when morning arrives. If you die during the night, you’ll get no bonus for the day – and what’s more, if you die away from your shelter in the day, part of your inventory gets dropped and you have to go find it, BLOODBORNE style. At night, horrifying monsters come out and will find any way to get into your shelter, which means gathering wood and barricading is of the utmost importance. During the day, wild dogs (among other things) will eat you if you come across them with no way of defending yourself.
Combat in this game is pretty clunky but that’s because combat isn’t necessarily the goal in DARKWOOD. Stealth and survival is the special of the day but sometimes combat is necessary when you’re exploring. A variety of weapons, both melee and guns, can be found or traded but they aren’t easy to come by. You must manage your inventory because it can fill quickly and takes some time to get used to. You work to make your way exploring the map, all the while minding the time as you must get to shelter when the sun begins to set, which is represented by a red hue in your environment. You have the ability to earn skills but with every skill that is discovered, one negative skill must be acquired, so you must plan and think through which skills you’ll decide upon.
DARKWOOD was difficult for me to get through but that is most definitely a compliment to Acid Wizard Studio. This game is scary as hell. Not only is the inability to see your surroundings until a dog or monster is right on top of you terrifying but the sound mixing and effects for this game are phenomenal. The key to scary games is the sound and DARKWOOD has done an amazing job. The game is relatively silent albeit for forest noises, the sound of walking or the random clap of thunder. Sometimes when you enter an important area or the morning is coming, there will be a crescendo of music, which is enough to freak you out if you have no idea what’s going on. The quiet sounds of a still forest that lulls you into a fall sense of security before a dog jumps from the darkness is far scarier than always hearing scary sounds or music.
The characters don’t have voices in DARKWOOD and all communication and exposition is given through beautiful, grotesque pictures and text. It is very reminiscent of old school computer RPG’s of the 90s. Overall, if you are patient and enjoy the slower moving and simple narrative-based games, you will adore DARKWOOD. This game is not for the lover of run-and-gun games but for those players that enjoy a dark and disturbing story told through small bits of text, exploration and slow-moving survival.