Darkwood – PC
Developer: Acid Wizard Studios
Publisher: Acid Wizard Studios
Release Date: July 24, 2014
Genre: Survival Horror
Nerd Rating: 7.5/10
In most games you are placed in a position of importance and power. The common fantasy is that you and you alone can save the country/world/universe. Bullets are infinite whether you’re shooting them or getting hit by them. The biggest of monsters and evilest of villains are no match for you. In all reality you wouldn’t last a heartbeat against any of these enemies. Hell, even getting away from the run of mill baddie would be a major accomplishment.
Darkwood is a game that treats you as the scared, frail creature that you are. Don’t expect a weapon to drop out the sky to save you. You’ll have to make it yourself. The game has a robust crafting system that allows you to make torches, Molotov cocktails, and the old tried and true two by four with a nail in it. The only thing is the materials needed to make these creations are in short supply. It would be one thing if you had to calmly decide how to allocate these resources in a well-lit sanitized room. However you will be making these decisions while something other worldly crashes against your flimsy shack-door during the night. Quick-thinking under extreme stress is what makes this game exciting.
The visuals and sound design just ooze atmosphere into the game. The game is played from a top down perspective, but don’t expect omniscient 360 degree sight. A modest cone represents your vision so if you want to see what is chasing you. You’ll have to turn around. This simple mechanic keeps the heart-pounding scares at 11 because you are never quite sure what just attacked you. All you know is that you need to get away from it and when you manage to get some distance and turn around. It’s gone! The environment assists in creating tension. Trees will obscure enemies hiding to ambush you. Hoping over fences and window sills will require you to use both hands, temporarily leaving you unarmed. A lot of work went into the details of this game with the aim to compel the player to make thoughtful choices.
At its heart, Darkwood is a survival/roguelike game but where other games in the genre get bogged down by the complexity, it shows strength in its simplicity. There is no manual and everything you learn about the game is through direct experience. Each game is different so replayability keeps it fresh. It revels in its punishing difficulty and demands you figure it out yourself. Don’t be turned off by that. The most gratifying feeling is seeing a plan of yours come together especially if you pulled it off on the fly.
The story is mysterious and the setting is ominous and bleak. It seems that everyone in Darkwood is trapped there. There is no way out, save for a hint about a door in the prologue. The denizens of this hapless place are other-worldly. Wolfman, The Three, the Musician, all three of these characters are clearly things that should not exist but do, just three surrealist nightmares just living out a mundane existence in the woods. This aspect and more helps to create a sensation of unease. You never are quite sure if someone is a monster or an ally.
The most challenging and fulfilling part of the game is night time. Oh you thought things were weird in the daylight. How cute! At night you hide yourself in your makeshift house and setup traps to protect yourself. This is where the game shines. Thinking of ways to protect yourself in the night is where you put to test everything you have learned and then some. I don’t know if you have thrown a Molotov at a monster stuck in a bear trap after you baited it with meat but it sure makes you feel like the smart guy in the room.
This game is currently in alpha and can be obtained through Steam’s Early Access. Now for those who are new gamers this means that the game is not finished. Alphas are testing phases where major game-play elements as well as engine improvements are still being changed and hammered out. What’s that mean in this game? There have been several regular updates to that game that have broken the save files from earlier versions. So you will have to start new games. The story for the game is not finished, but they are progressing at a regular pace. There are bugs in the game but nothing that has prevented me from having fun.
The developers have been pretty up front about the infant state of the game and its punishing, unforgiving difficulty. This requires an amount of patience that the average gamer may not possess, so if this means you, then you should wait for the full release of the game. There is no release date set for final version of the game yet. So weigh this when considering purchasing this game, but at the moment it is $14.99.
There are plenty of ghosts, ghouls, and other things that go bump in the night. So if you love horror this is the game for you. The genius of the game is in the victories you gain not from a range of super powers, but from thinking quickly and leveraging your meager resources to defeat supernatural forces. If you want a game that brings out your inner MacGyver while Cthulhu stalks your every step, than Darkwood is the game for you.
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