When it comes to genre of horror, whether it be through films or video games, there is nothing scarier than being lost within the darkness of a forest with nothing but a torch to guide you. It may be a bit clichéd these days, but for me personally, it sums up what horror truly is. It’s also a setting that takes place within Darkwood, the latest horror title to scream a release onto the Nintendo Switch and it’s also a setting that the game uses to great effect.
Developed by Acid Wizard Studios and published through Crunching Koalas, Darkwood presents a series of unique features that perfectly recreates a sense of unknowing and unnerving to bring home the reality of being scared out of your wits. Instead of opting for your typical trope of Hollywood scares, this is a title that preys on the unknown in a psychological setting. Rather than relying on the purposeful jump scares often associated with horror, the developers have chosen to guide you through a path of the unknowing of what may be just around the corner.
From a top-down perspective and with a distinctly dark colour scheme, you take on the role of a man who has become isolated amongst the thick of a dark and corrupted forest within the dense foliage of Eastern Europe. The population and vegetation of the area has become infected with a twisted disease and you now find yourself within the shelter of an old shack that is surrounded by the unknown. With only a torch and a roughly hand-sketched map to guide you, you embark on a journey of exploration and survival, not knowing what may lurk within the darkest of shadows.
The game builds on a very unnerving experience as you learn the basic fundamentals of the game. A brief tutorial guides you at first to some of the basic mechanics of the game, but after this, you are left to your own devices, where you must work out for yourself what you need to do. It’s here where the game excels in its horror. As you explore the immediate area, you may catch a glimpse of something within the beam of your torch light or amongst the surrounding darkness that envelopes your cone of light. They’re perfectly designed to spook you and force you to proceed cautiously. It also brings home a feeling of isolation and the desperation of your circumstances.
The game follows a day and night cycle, enforcing further the feeling of the unknown. Do you explore during the night or take refuge in your run-down shack from the unknowing of what is out there? For the first few nights, it’s this feeling of trepidation that brings an air of caution. However, before long, you’ll experience the truth of your surroundings and learn what you need to do in order to survive whatever horrors may be abound. This can be achieved through a very accessible crafting mechanic that soon finds you working towards barricading down your shack and arming yourself for your own protection. Various items can be found that can be used for your survival, as well as a sprinkling of other characters that you may come across to help you on your quest.
The more you play and the further you explore, you begin to come across certain landmarks with which to navigate on your map, as well as few interactions that present a series of mission objectives to help push the narrative along. Completing quests not only allows for greater exploration, but also introduces a Resident Evil 4 style trader who visits you daily with items that can be used to bolster your defences or armaments. Before long, you soon find yourself within a pattern of exploring by the day and defending yourself from the darkness that surrounds at night. However, one of the real beauties of this game is the unpredictability of its very nature. Everything here is randomly generated, from the layout of the land to the intensity of any encounters or strange goings on. One minute you may catch sight of strange things, the next your cautiously advancing through a period of nothing happening, knowing that full well something could happen at any minute.
It’s here where the true horror of this title lies, although once you construct an effective means of defence, such as stronger barricades, traps and potions and the night begins to crawl in, the horrors that lie within it can transcend into anarchic chaos as you try and use your resources to the best effect to stop the darkness from consuming you. You soon find yourself dreading the onset of what the following evening may have in store for you. Without giving anything away, whatever lies within the darkness knows where you are and will stop at nothing to spell your demise. There’s a real frightening sense to the game as you hope your defences are enough to keep the darkness out, a premise made even more terrifying when your barricades breach, traps spring and yet still more horrors come. You begin to fight as a last resort, using whatever weaponry you have from guns to axes; each of which is simple to execute and produces a satisfying level of weight, especially with a limit to your stamina, enforcing the desperation of your circumstance even more.
From a technical viewpoint, this Switch version of the game holds up pretty well. Its fine pixel-art, yet extremely detailed graphical presentation conveys a real sense of horror and darkness. There are a lot of elements at play here, although at times some items can become stuck within the scenery or when a lot of action is taking place on-screen, it can stutter slightly. There’s nothing particularly game-breaking here, but frustrations can set in when something that should work, simply doesn’t because of a technical fault within the game. However, if past iterations of the game are anything to go by, then the support for this title should remain and future patches should eradicate these problems.
Overall, Darkwood presents a shining example of the horror genre done right. Without the cliché of jump scares, the game preys on your unnerving caution and unknowing of what may come next. This, coupled with its random generations and survival mechanics, presents a game that plays on the psychology of the unknown to produce a, quite frankly, terrifying experience. However, that’s not to say that this might be a game for everyone. Some may be put-off by its graphical presentations and the pacing of the game may not be to everyone’s liking. However, I’d recommend at least trying it; give it a few nights and I’ll guarantee that you’ll soon be peeing your pants. Despite a few technical issues that can hamper the gameplay, its overall feeling of urgency and survival all adds to produce one of the most compelling horror games of recent times and dares you to tread its path, multiple times, through a series of ever-changing and branching journeys through the darkest corners of your fears.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
Darkwood offers a unique take on the horror genre which targets the psychological fears of your darkest nightmares.