Jump scares are all very well and good, but the most powerful sense of fear comes from what you don’t see. As gaming gains a more broad pallet titles like Dark Wood reminds us that there are still basic lessons to learned from good sound work and clever use of lighting.
Dark Wood is a survival horror game of sorts that you play from a top down view point, using your mouse to face in any direction. You can interact with the environment in various ways, from pushing and pulling objects, to rifling through the many bodies/cupboards/things. You will probably leave the games opening sequence as confused as when you first started; in fact probably more so. For me, this adds to the sense of fear because the game keeps even basic information from you (such as who you are) and leaves you hanging. To avoid spoilers I’ll just say that you are seemingly trapped in the woods and there are forces at work intent on keeping you there on a permanent basis.
Some players might be put off by the top down view of this game, surmising that its capacity for horror will be diminished by a more old school chassis. However, the way this title uses this view is incredible. As you turn, what you see is represented from a cone of vision. This will be obstructed by objects in the world and this gives a fairly accurate representation of what you're peepers can see. This technique also adds a lot of atmosphere, just by opening a door your beam like vision creeps through the opening; widening as the door creaks further to expose the horrors within. When walking through trees this same effect will send shadows reaching into the darkness ahead like gigantic black fingers and even tiny gaps in wooden walls will send a thin slither of vision through. When trying to assess who (or what) is walking on the other side of a wall builds tension like you wouldn't believe.
Like our own vision, what you see on the screen when not looking directly at that area can seem distorted. Subtle shapes and misty figures can sometimes trick you into thinking danger is near. The visuals for this are not revolutionary by any stretch but there has been a lot of work put into the animations and static visuals. There is also a great sense of uniqueness to the many locations in this game and I can’t remember seeing the same place twice.
As you play day and night will occur naturally and when the darkness does come, the only safe place is within the shroud of mist created by your fireplace. This is not absolute safety however and soon things will come knocking on your door. One way to keep intruders away, at least initially, is to find gasoline and keep your generator running through the night. Light from your lamps will only keep certain dangers away, as you will discover. As the nights come to a climax so too does the eerie background music that would be right at home in John Carpenters The Thing or Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. On surviving the night you will awake the next morning and be paid a visit from a trader. Surviving also gains you reputation with this NPC which you can use to buy much-needed resources. You must then head out into the game world again to find clues, gather more resources and face the horrors of the forest.
Right from the off it is clear this is going be a disturbing game; everything you come across seems withered and caked in decay. Dead bodies litter the fields, buildings appear dilapidated and there are other things that are just not right. As you find various forms of meat, the game allows you to cook these morsels and fuse them into a syringe of meaty extract. Once full you can give yourself a new ability and these certainly hint at a supernatural undercurrent. For example, one allows you to heal once a day while standing near electric lights and another lets you see exactly where you are on the map. This works by leaving an unnamed ‘body part’ at that location: this is a grim game for sure.
I know I don't give games enough coverage in regards to sound, ACG often reminds me of this in the amazing way he conveys good (and bad) sound work. However, I absolutely must give the sound in Dark Wood some major attention because I found it to be astounding. Like the visuals, it is not just a case of high-quality samples being used. No, it’s the timing and way in which environmental sound is used to make you feel dread. Sometimes when barricaded inside your refuge you will hear a sudden twig snap, a floorboard creak in the next room or a distant guttural growl. Each is a sign that something is coming and when finally the boards you just nailed to a door start to buckle; you know this could be the end.
This fantastic use of sound combined with the visual effects make playing Dark Wood a very creepy experience indeed and one which absolutely must be played on your own, in a low lit room with a good set of headphones.
It is always nice when you stumble across a game you didn't know about and after taking a punt: it turns it to be fantastic. There isn’t a great deal of coverage out there for dark Wood and so for that reason alone, I wanted to review it. Indie developers like Acid Wizard are what is exciting about the games industry today and we should support them when we can. For those of you who stream games this would also be a perfect title.
I could tell you more but this is one of them games where the less you know going in, the better. The price point for this game is also very good and you will get at least twenty hours at least and nearer thirty if you tool around like I do. So there it is guys, if you like old school horror games or huddling in dark corners praying for morning; Dark Wood is highly recommended.
Thank you for reading my review of Dark Wood on PC, if you would like to follow my doings you can do so @riggedforepic and of course add my site to your favourites.