Darkwood Alpha Review
Do you know that feeling you get when you are walking through your house in the middle of the night? You know it is just you wandering around in the darkness to get a drink. There is just that unnerving feeling, however, that something is wandering in the darkness right behind you and walking in time with your steps so you can’t hear them. Then you turn around to check, clutching the light of your phone or flicking on the hallway light, and nothing is there. Whew.
Take that feeling, right? Now take that feeling for all day, you have no light and you know you hear something wandering in the darkness. You can hear the wood creak under their footsteps. When your eyes finally adjust to the darkness and you get brave enough to turn around to check? There is nothing there but you swore you saw a shadow move. Now what do you do? That’s Darkwood in a nutshell.
This is a review of a game in early access and in its alpha state. I have played the game for an entire week to get a solid feeling of the nature of the game. I couldn’t tell you how far I have gotten or if I was even on the right track. What I can say merely is an impression of the game’s design choices and gameplay as of Alpha 2.1.
Right from the beginning the game sets the tone for a nerve-wracking experience that constantly has you checking every corner and angle. The tutorial, where I once though I would be safe before things got nasty, immediately starts you off wondering. Why does this guy have cages everywhere? Where is that odd sound coming from? Where did that dude just go when the lights cut off?
You would think an overhead view would be awesome for keeping an eye on everything but you only get hints to changes in the environment, if anything. You might get to see a door open somewhere in the rest of the house or you might not even realize, until the loud banging is coming, that something is trying to break down your barricade and get in. All you get are hints and you have to be constantly searching.
Where the game sets the most atmosphere is in the sound. You hear slight bumping coming from just outside the house or you can hear footsteps that aren’t your own. Wait, was that you stepping on a twig or something else? Then you hear a growl and you realize it is just one of the many unfriendly dogs that don’t have time for your nonsense. You lucked out this time, now back away slowly and hope that the rustling sound of your clothes doesn’t drown out the other sounds coming from around you.
When you finally get into the main game you are immediately introduced to a handsome man who will affectionately call you Meat for the rest of your miserable time in this forest. Is he a friend? I don’t know. He’ll talk to you and trade with you, though! Maybe if I keep giving him stuff he won’t tell me the tale of why there is a bullet hole in his jacket or why he had a wolf head.
After talking to such a handsome and gentile creature? You’re on your own. You learned a few tricks from the tutorial and now you need to go out there and put those skills to use. Currently it will take you a few times to get an understanding of what is going on, and you certainly need to check the wiki, but I am in love with that rogue-like aspect of learning where I failed and picking up a second time. Then a third time. I feel like a masochist as I realize how many times I threw myself into that horrible place but the difficulty was absolutely worth the reward of surviving just one more night and getting closer to understanding what was going on.
The night is the best and worst time. Your first night will feel horrible, isolating and you will be absolutely uncertain as to what you should be doing during this time. Whatever you choose to do just be prepared to know it will be nothing like the rest of the nights going forward.
From my own experience I have found that no matter how well you scavenge up materials, no matter if you have one amazing axe in hand or even if you have Molotov Cocktails coming out of your eyeballs, you will never be fully prepared for the oncoming night. I was constantly shoved to keep preparing and keep trying to find basic tools to survive my next day. Somewhere in the middle of all that I had to figure out what was going on.
That is the sign of a great survival game to me. You should never be in excess and comfortable until you’re well into a late game or near the end. You should constantly be tested if you’re up to the challenge of truly surviving against this world. Darkwood does not offer you a day to breathe and pits you up against some crazy stuff.
I’m hooked on Darkwood. I am in absolute love with this game’s style and gameplay. The whole experience was deeply rewarding for the difficult curve it throws at you and you can still set it somewhat harder by turning on permadeath. I played this for well over five hours to get an indepth experience and just because I didn’t want to stop.
When did I stop, you might be asking? Well, in a testament to Darkwood’s ambience, it started to rain and all the light was quickly going out of the world. I knew the scary time was coming before I even could be prepared for more of it. I ended the game so I could wait for my gaming buddies to come back on. Too spooky for me.
The game is in alpha early access right now on Steam. If you want a game that really does the survival-horror genre well and in a new way? I highly recommend you pick this up to give it a shot. Even in this alpha state I have to say it is really well done. I cannot wait to see what the finished product will look like.