Developer: Acid Wizard Studio
Publisher: Crunching Koala
Genre: Action, Horror, Adventure
Age Rating: PEGI 18
Release Date: 14/05/19 – Out now
Price: £11.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
Five years after its initial release on Steam Early Access, top-down survival horror ‘Darkwood’, has now been ported to the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Developed by Acid Wizard Studio, the title centres on your escape through a treacherous forest and all of the dangerous and unsettling creatures that inhabit it. The story and encounters that unfold are fascinating, and I highly recommend experiencing Darkwood with no prior knowledge of the plot.
Darkwood runs on a day and night cycle that is integral to the main gameplay loop. Daylight allows you to gather the necessary resources to survive the night and conquer any foes that cross your path. This is key to your progression through the game, and I’d recommend figuring out item-use early on in the story. Different resources can be combined to varying effects – multiple rags allow you to craft bandages while combining a cloth, matchstick and alcohol produce a Molotov cocktail.
At night, you’ll return to your hideout where a workbench allows you to craft items that significantly improve your chances when venturing out to explore the woods. The workbench itself can be upgraded, allowing you to craft a broader range of items. Learning the lay of the land is crucial to survival, and discovering key landmarks helps to keep your bearings. Exploration is the key mechanic in Darkwood, and the loop of searching the forest to gather resources before hunkering down in your hideout is one of this title’s best and most enjoyable features.
From the onset, you are told to respect the woods, and this is apparent as soon as you step foot in the forest. Bear traps, poisonous corpses and other deadly contraptions litter the forest floor, and a limited field of vision makes avoiding these a challenge. The combat, particularly melee attacks, feels incredibly clunky and it seems the protagonist is not well versed in wielding staffs or bats. Because of this, I often found myself taking a more pacifist approach in an attempt to avoid confrontation unless necessary. The deeper you venture into the forest, the deadlier your foes become. Darkwood is a very challenging game and not for the faint-hearted.
Your hideout is equipped with an oven that allows you to cook and gain ‘essence’. Essence is used to unlock a range of skills that include improving your field of vision or dealing double melee damage when low on health. However, these upgrades come with consequences, and upon unlocking a skill, you also have to select a negative trait. I have yet to come across another game that employs such a skill tree and felt it added considerable weight to both my decision-making process and experience of the woods.
Environmental sounds are used to significant effect in Darkwood. Heavy rainfall, cracks of lightning and the screams from an unidentified foe combine to create an undeniably eerie atmosphere, in which someone or something may be waiting for you around every corner. When night falls, the grunts and growls from passers-by serve as a reminder of the dangers of the woods and ensure you stay well hidden in your hideout.
With regards to performance, I found stutters and slow down to be a reoccurring problem. Although they didn’t make much of an impact on the overall experience, during combat, they could force errors, and I found myself having to spend around 15 minutes retracing my steps to reclaim lost items after being clubbed to death.
Darkwood’s washed-out art style and muddy colour palette certainly doesn’t make it the most attractive of games. However, the environmental sound cues and limited field of vision are a triumph and serve as a lesson in how to successfully build atmospheric tension.
Completing Darkwood on the lowest difficulty (Normal) took around 20 hours. At this level, death only had minor consequences, where you would drop around half of your inventory. Going to collect your backpack tended to be a minor inconvenience and sometimes wasn’t necessary, particularly if I died in an optional or challenging area. Upping the difficulty on further playthroughs certainly enhanced the intensity, making each step you’d take that much more fearful. On Hard, you only have four lives, after which the game is over. For the ultimate challenge, Nightmare difficulty provides you with one life and death is permanent.
I would recommend experiencing multiple playthroughs of Darkwood, as the story branches off on to different paths depending on whom you offer particular vital items. There are also additional missions to undertake from NPCs throughout the woods. Content-wise, Darkwood offers excellent replay value for those brave enough to want to spend more time in the haunting forest.
In the genre of top-down survival games, Darkwood is a standout. The day and night cycle has been executed exceptionally well and the gameplay loop of gathering resources, laying traps and waiting out the night in your hideout is exhilarating. Darkwood’s combat is far from stellar but, overall, this survival horror is definitely worth your time. Uncovering the secrets of the terrifying forest is both intriguing and disturbing, just remember to respect the woods.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Darkwood from the PlayStation Store on the following link, https://store.playstation.com/en-gb/product/EP2627-CUSA13405_00-DARKWOOD00000000
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