You press start to play, and a message appears. It claims what you’re about to play is unforgiving and your hand will not be held through your hellish journey of survival. It wasn’t lying. Your patience will be tested as you scrounge around for items while avoiding the night. When dusk settles, you’ll be overrun by monsters. The only way to survive is to get into your hideout and hope for the best outcome. Darkwood is a creepy game with a lot of focus on crafting and item management. It’s essentially like most survival games, but with a heavy emphasis on horror. If you make it past the prologue without rage quitting, you’re braver than most people.
Here’s what I liked:
Horrific Atmosphere — Likely the first thing you’ll notice is that the mood is dark and eerie. You’re immediately thrown into chaos from the start. Haunting noises can be heard from nearby, yet you’ll have no clue what’s causing them. When you take certain steps, you’ll hear a creek that might make you feel like you’re being ambushed. The enemies are resilient and there is no end to them. You can survive day by day, but you’ll not get a break from attack. Because it’s always dark, there will be multiple jump-scares. You aren’t a strong character and you’re outnumbered. It can be pretty frightening most of the time. You won’t find anything cheery or happy here, it’s all very depressing. It’s like enjoying a rainy day.
Light Within the Darkness — I very much admire the lightning effects that grace the screen while playing. When you shine your flashlight through a window, the beam casts shadows of the window bars. Your viewpoint is really only what the light hits, which is a lot of what makes things scary. Your field of view is whatever the light touches (so that means it’s your kingdom). Turn around and suddenly you can’t see what is behind you. When night hits, you’ll find yourself barricaded in your hideout, likely in the corner to make sure you see anything coming at you. It’s actually the most intense part of the game. Being in a corner, with your flashlight on, awaiting whatever comes your way.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
What to Do — Part of the not holding your hand part is based around not giving you much of a hint on where to go. You’re left to fend for yourself, exploring a bleak and desolate world. Without any real goals, I found it incredibly difficult to carry on. A new day brought forth just another new day. Without any real objective shown, I didn’t want to venture out into the world at all. It seemed like an absolute chore to run around a map that doesn’t show where you’re located (you can obtain a skill later for it, but at the cost of losing another ability). Also, you’re on a timer. When it becomes nighttime, you are forced to make a run for your hideout. You just have to drop everything and hightail it back. Everything is a tedious task.
Too Much Junk— Crafting is one of the biggest components of the game. You must make everything from scraps you find. A few exceptions are good items you find, but that doesn’t happen as much as you’d hope it to. I found myself with no room in my inventory because everything I had was literally garbage. But was it? I can’t tell, because I have no idea what they could craft later on. So I hoard all of it and then struggle with finding places to put the new stuff. There are loads of various crafting materials and they’re all randomly thrown into the world. You could go a long time without finding the right thing to finish off a much-desired item.
Clunky — Controls are sluggish and far from perfect. Maybe that was the point. In the hideout specifically, you have tons of things you can interact with. Sometimes you do it by accident while highlighting something else. There’s a lot of clutter everywhere. When you get out into the open areas, it’s not that big of a deal. But you spend a lot of time in the hideouts. When you attack, you have to wind up with the left trigger, then swing with the right. One time I thought all enemies were dead, so I went to loot them. Suddenly I was being attacked, and I had to keep hitting the B button in order to get back to fighting. I just didn’t feel the controls were that great. Again, maybe this is all planned to make cumbersome actions get in your way to spread panic. I guess I just wasn’t a fan.
I have really mixed feelings about Darkwood. My favorite genre is horror, but one of my least is survival games based on crafting. The atmosphere is dark and horrific. The sound is extremely good and brings life to all the death and decay. I will admit it was a real struggle to play. I just didn’t find myself enjoying it, at all. With no clue on what to do or where to go, I didn’t summon enough patience to get very far. Actually, I don’t even know how far I had gotten because there was nothing to indicate any form of progress. With awkward controls and an inventory filled with stuff I didn’t quite need, I lost all fear in the game because I didn’t care about anything. The character that you play is dull, so if he died no tears were shed. While some games get you hooked with “just completing one more quest” since you have none, there was no desire to continue. I know many people will disagree but I’m just being straightforward. It was hard for me to find anything within Darkwood that I truly admired besides the theme. Just because it’s not for everyone doesn’t mean it’s a bad game. Lots of people will love it. I just think that the majority won’t.
Score: Limited Appeal
Darkwood was published by Crunching Koalas and developed by Acid Wizard Studio on Xbox One. It was released on May 17, 2019, for $14.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.