The woods are dangerous. Even at times, during the day, you may need to brandish a torch to light the way where the trees are most dense. Salvaging supplies never seems to be enough, and survival is never ensured, because the woods are dangerous. The winds howl, and the boards of your shelter creak in Darkwood as the night sets in. You huddle by the stove where a slowing warmth emanates, and a scent that wards away the evils of outside radiates, enough — you hope, to outlast the night. Will the barricades hold? Will there be enough fuel for the generator? You pray that your shelter has what it needs, because when night falls, you can’t leave. The woods are dangerous.
Darkwood by Acid Wizard Studios is a mystery/survival/horror game where players are tasked to simply stay alive over night. With a top-down view of a mostly overcast and colorless world, Darkwood certainly paints a solid picture of the bleak world players will be stepping into. Even during the daytime, players have a very acute view angle that lights up the path ahead of you. This is meant to exacerbate the horrific feeling that the only things you can expect and the only items you will really be able to see, are what’s right in front of you. Throughout the first hour while players learn the basics, crafting, exploration, interaction, the learning curve can be steep and unforgiving.
In fact, Acid Wizard Studio tells you pretty much before you even load into the game how devoid of hand holding one could expect in the world of Darkwood. For fans of harsh survival games, this could be a major selling point. For more casual survival fans, the only real solace that you will find, is that, on normal mode, you don’t really lose anything permanently. In a way, this makes death in its entirety, more of a hassle than it does a real punishment, but for a game like Darkwood, it may be the only way some of us will attempt to play it. The harsh nature of the world certainly resonates in the survival genre, but how does it fair on the second level, the horror level?
In my estimation, the majority of the horrors revolve around ambience, and the inevitable jump scare players will get when evil spirits invade their dwelling for the first few times. What could be scarier than the unknown? Will the barriers hold? Have I adequately prepared? The unknown plays a large part of the underlying horror factor. In the daytime, your surroundings are mostly devoid of life. Twigs snap, doors creak, it’s spooky for sure. At night, you mainly can’t see what exactly is coming for you. When it finally does break through, unexpectedly, it could initially cause a mild jump scare, but that feeling eventually dissipates with repetition. The horror factor is only a temporary event in what will end up as a very punishing, and eerie survival title.
What really is more horrific to me than the howls and monsters is the control scheme. As this review is related specifically to the Nintendo Switch, I feel that they didn’t make use of the touch screen at all, where it could have easily aided in what is otherwise a strange mess of buttons. Combat alone is kind of a test of your patience. To raise your weapon, you have to hold one button, then to use it, you hit another, and every little item needs to be scrolled and selected with the D-pad. Despite that having a controller specific design is certainly necessary when playing Darkwood switch in docked mode, how easy could it have been to be able to drag and drop items from one container to the next? In terms of gameplay there is adequate fun to be had when building up your defenses and exploring the world, but that ends up being forfeit over night, where you really don’t have much to do aside from waiting it out. For everything that Darkwood manages to do well, its essence will only really appeal to a niche survival crowd. One that really enjoys cumbersome mechanics, slow gratification and harsh world-building. If this sounds like you, bring a torch and a sleeping bag, you’re going to be roughing it overnight in Darkwood.