Darkwood – Nintendo Switch
Developed By : Acid Wizard, Crunching Koalas
Published By : Crunching Koalas
Category : Adventure, Role-Playing
Release Date : May 16, 2019
Reviewed by: Shaun Hughes
Respect the woods…
Never has a game depicted the very essence of its gameplay any better than the opening sentences found on the Darkwood loading screen:
You are playing a challenging and unforgiving game.
You will not be led by the hand.
Respect the woods. Be patient. Focus.
Developers Acid Wizards and Crunching Koalas have sought to create a horror experience that breaks the mold of the traditional offerings, and create horror they have.
After awakening in a rundown house equipped with an oven, worktable, wardrobe and a generator in a nearby outbuilding, you are left to your own devices. Looting seems to be the only logical answer to early predicaments about what you are meant to be doing, and a brief check of the storage options nearby will allow you to start grabbing the essentials. Exploration of the house itself indicates to you that the place can be barricaded, but from who and what remains to be seen…
Once you have exhausted all avenues within the house, it is natural to look to leave the relative confines of ‘home’ and find out what is happening. That’s the last time that the word natural can be associated with Darkwood, as there is little in the way of evidence to suggest there is anything natural about what follows.
Although the game wills you to step outside the house and explore, the audio and visual elements of this title compel you not to. For starters, there are all manner of noises emanating from the environment, many of which are fever-inducing and just plain scary. This was the first of many indications that I was going to thoroughly enjoy my time here – the sounds are top notch. They create an atmosphere that rivals any that has come before it, without the need for a stereotypically horror-based soundtrack. From the sound of crows feasting on a corpse to pulsating poisonous mushrooms, there was never a moments peace.
Visually, Darkwood took hold and wouldn’t let go. It is an incredibly well-crafted, procedurally generated environment where the top-down perspective works wonders. By using the left stick to move, and the right to alter the direction with which your character is facing, the small light protruding from your characters vision is all that you can safely see – everything else is dark, dreary and gruesome.
Moving through the eerie landscape in search of answers, you encounter key areas that often add to the intrigue of this title. You may find a burnt-out car or an abandoned house, and often there is something to interact with here. Each time that you do happen across a new location, it is added to your map as a point of reference. This is just another example of the challenges that lie in wait, as this static map only indicates where you are when you are at one of the predefined locations. As night draws in and you look to get back home, this can prove rather difficult to navigate.
Darkwood states from the off that you will ‘not be led by the hand’, and it won’t take long for this to become crystal clear to the player. After a successful night surviving in my boarded up home, I awoke to a rather unusual looking figure bearing down on me. Known only ‘Wolfman’, this beastly character acts as a vendor and aide to your character in the early stages. Offering everything from gun parts to bandages and crafting materials, you can trade with him either in reputation points (currency) or items you have procured so far.
The items available here have many practical uses, but the developers have chosen not to tell you what they are. It was through trial and error, and educated guesswork, that I could determine why I would want such an item and this made the stakes even higher. For example, the price of a Watch was quite significant, but the reward was that I now had access to the time. This allowed me to know exactly when it was time to make my way back home before darkness set in. Invaluable once purchased, but a risk to buy in the first place.
Wolfman is a wily old wolf and will not have the wool pulled over his eyes: a poor deal is a poor deal. You cannot get him to trade if the deal isn’t beneficial to him, and he also indicates early on that all is not well here. There are ways to fix it – only if you help him of course. He provides a quest that sparks a chain reaction you can choose to delve into or ignore.
Wolfman is just one of many NPCs that can be found in Darkwood, and each has their own unique story to tell. Interacting with as many as possible was my goal as I looked to find out more of the events of Darkwood, and boy am I glad I did. With so many options, discoverable locations and quests to complete, there is ample replayability. Coupled with the procedurally generated nature of the environment at each playthrough, there is many a reason to return.
What enamoured me most about my time with Darkwood is its ability to balance horror with intrigue and complexity with simplicity. The system of crafting and trading items is detailed without being difficult to master, and the scare tactics employed aren’t enough to combat the allure of finding out more about the darkness of the wood.
I could share more about the happenings in Darkwood, but as intended by the developers, that’s for you to find out for yourself. For those who look at the title and think that there may not be enough information to stop them from losing their way, and their interest, there is a cult following online who have documented all you need to get started.
Aside from the occasional slowdown, I found there to be little to dispute the claim that this is a masterpiece in its own right. It is bold, brash and unapologetically weird, and I love it! Anyone with a penchant for horror and a thirst for a challenge should buy this…now.