Darkwood, an early access game available on Steam now, is a top down survival horror game in the early alpha stage, developed by Acid Wizard Studio. Darkwood describes itself as ‘an unforgiving game about survival, exploration and fear set in mysterious woods somewhere in the territory of the Soviet Bloc’, and one thing is for certain, they weren’t lying when they said it was unforgiving.
Darkwood has all that it takes to be a cult classic when it’s released as a full game; it’s an interesting concept with a well thought out crafting system and a world full of atmosphere and characters full of personality. Its extreme difficulty however is where it will gain a majority of its fans. From the get go you are given the option to have perma death enabled, meaning if you make one mistake or aren’t prepared for many of the surprises and shocks coming your way, it’s game over and back to the start you go. Feeling rather timid about going in and thinking I was the master of all games I decided to disable this option, this comes highly recommended so you can learn all you can before trying this brutal mode.
Even without perma death enabled, this game is still unforgiving and ruthless, the game requires high amounts of strategy and planning out exactly how you need to spend your days scavenging and crafting to be able to survive the nights. The more you play the more you learn and the more rewarding this game is, however if you’re not one for tough, unforgiving games with little guidance this may not be worth the purchase.
On the other hand for those who are craving a challenge, you’re in for an atmospheric and eerie experience. The top down view adds to the atmosphere much to my surprise. Starting Darkwood, I was dubious as to whether the top down view could still retain a highly tense and jumpy experience that horror games are well known for. However Acid Wizard Studio have designed a viewpoint, filled with bare tree branches blocking your view to the ground, crows flying overhead and corpses set into the ground, that unsettles the player, perfect for when you’re playing at in a dark room with headphones.
The cutscenes are equally as creepy and the characters are suitably disturbing, including a strange chicken lady, a hooded wolf and a fiddle playing young boy with strings attached to his face. The characters and atmosphere are definitely aspects that Acid Wizard Studio must be praised for as it already feels very polished, especially for the game only being in alpha 1.3. Whilst these aspects of the game felt polished, others still need work, or at least feel like they need more refinement to me.
For example, the lack of a marker on the map telling you where you are is frustrating, after having not played the game for a few days only to load it up and not have a clue where I was. Although others may believe this is simply exactly what the game is about, creating your own waypoints and remembering the map from landmarks. Whether the developer will provide a less hardcore way to learning the ropes is still to be seen, but this can be forgiven due to the aforementioned early build. On the other hand a spelling mistake in the dialogue when chatting to one of the inhabitants of Darkwood felt a little less polished and even a bit poor for QA standards of an early access game. Again it’s only near the start for Darkwood but you’d expect these things to be checked upon the games first initial release onto Steam.
As atmospheric as the top down view looked, I started to find it somewhat frustrating as it was difficult to know where you were going with tree branches blocking your view of your character and the ground below. Almost as if my prayers had been answered, my first upgrade in the games RPG like level up system, requiring you to fill a syringe with mushrooms and other ingredients, allowed me to see better underneath objects like trees.
The game is controlled from a rather standard PC control scheme of ‘WASD’ and movement of the mouse to direct your characters view, this suited the game well, though I couldn’t help but feel like Darkwood would have been more suited to a point and click movement style much like in Diablo 3. Whether this could be implemented as an alternative control style is to be seen through future updates and builds released up until the games full official release.
Whilst playing Darkwood I felt a bit lost with the game but not for the reasons that seem to be flooding the steam community forums. Instead I was feeling a bit baffled with the story and objective I was trying to achieve. As I played through the game and seemingly got lost, the game had dragged me into a house and I had no idea how I got there, after doing a bit of exploring and crafting I finally managed to get a door open only to be met by my first enemy, who inevitably chased me around the house.
This was where another issue with the game came to fruition. I hit tab to select my weapon and add it to the hot key so I could use it, but as I did so the game doesn’t pause and instead the action continues, leading to me getting pummelled to a pulp by the enemy. Again, I suppose this could all come under the game being classed as difficult and unforgiving. Maybe I should have expected an enemy to be the other side of the door, or at least have my weapon at the ready, but whether this would instead be seen as a turn off for some player’s remains to be seen.
Darkwood has heaps and heaps of atmosphere likely to have you scared to make one unplanned move in case the game gobbles you up and spits you out back at the safe house. Reiterating what I’ve already said, disabling the perma death option is highly recommended so you can learn the ropes before experiencing just how brutal the game can be. The more you play of Darkwood, the more it will grip you into its frightening world. As long as Acid Wizard Studio continue to update and improve the game to the high standard and frequency that they have been doing, I’m sure many of my slight gripes with the game will be resolved by the time the game is fully released and will cement itself as a cult classic.