29th May2019

‘Darkwood’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

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Originally released for PC in 2017, Darkwood has now been ported to the Nintendo Switch, so owners of Nintendo’s popular handheld can also enjoy one of the bleakest worlds in gaming.

A top-down exploratory survival horror with elements of crafting, Darkwood takes no prisoners, there is a permadeath mode for those truly masochistic but my time with the game was spent in the ‘normal’ mode whereby death ‘merely’ robs you of half your inventory. Woo-hoo.

The game begins with the player character (a nameless protagonist throughout) in a ruined farmhouse with a few meagre supplies nearby as well as a workbench (yes, there’s crafting but it’s not too dense) a table-saw, a very unusual kitchen (that teases you into making ‘the serum’) and some scattered furniture. Part of the appeal of the early game is getting to grips with your troubling situation and piecing the fragments of the backstory together from scattered information and dialogue from the odd inhabitants of this seemingly endless, towering forest.

The world of Darkwood is miserable and harsh with each new area seeming to be rife with an all-encompassing morbid gloom that permeates everything. The muted visuals, sparse dialogue and wonderfully realised characters are all threads on this tapestry of sadness. I wandered around fields, scavenging broken tractors, talking to the hooded Wolfman (he of the unknown agenda) and ensuring that the windows of my paltry temporary homes were barricaded and furniture dragged to block doors whilst I made certain that the generator was filled with precious, precious gasoline….because the night is terrifying.

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I was genuinely surprised by how effective the nights in Darkwood were. I’ve played other games with a day / night cycle in which you do NOT want to be out playing hopscotch after midnight but the sound design here was something else. My first night was spent in the bedroom (you can’t sleep through the nights in the game so it’s pretty much purely decorative) and, aside from footsteps and doors creaking open by themselves it wasn’t too bad..unsettling, but I survived. The second night was a different story…

I remembered to turn the generator on and, having a gun with a single bullet and a plank of wood with some nails jammed in it, I felt pretty confident. This was my first mistake. I again locked myself in the bedroom and began the wait until the relative safety that dawn would bring. That is, until the lamps I had lit slowly blinked out one by one and I could hear odd whispers as strange, ethereal spirits attacked me, causing me to back into the corner with the last remaining lamp. An animalistic grunting got closer and closer and, from the darkened kitchen, the definite sound of a window opening. This was then followed an oddly gentle and almost casual knock at the front door…followed by another, more aggressive knock that evolved into frantic banging. Quite frankly, I’ve never wanted to open a door less in my life but I thought I could take whoever it was out before they completely smashed my house through. Pegging it through to the door, I opened it to find nothing but a creepy child’s drawing on the porch…yaaaay. Heading back to the transient safety of my oh-so-far-away bedroom, I heard the grunting again and stupidly, stupidly cast my flashlight towards it….and yes, it was an antlered-man standing outside the kitchen who immediately bellowed, scrambled in through the window, cornered me… and beat me to death.

The game is filled with moments such as this, wandering into strange underground bunkers and burned houses that you really, really don’t want to go snooping in, especially as night falls but you have to for resources in order to proceed. Another clever point of design is that your goal is always clearly marked and feels up to you in how you get there / do it. I also loved how each character stuck in my mind and were so shady that I didn’t know whether to trust anyone at all, it’s a game that sets you on edge and keeps you there.

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Darkwood is a game that feels unique in it’s presentation and style although there are similar games to it. It has more of a Neo Scavenger / S.T.A.L.K.E.R vibe to it of minimalistic survival and just ‘getting out of the bad place’ as opposed to making a life there. Definitely one for fans of not just tension and horror but storytelling as well, this dark tale is well-told and worth playing. Obviously, like everything…I’d love it even more if there was the hope of local co-op, although even if I was playing with my dearest oldest friend, like all the characters in the game…I wouldn’t trust them, especially at night.

Darkwood is available on the Nintendo eShop now.

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