Let’s go ahead and address the elephant in the room. Darkwood does not care if you survive. The game is so unapologetic about its difficulty that there is a disclaimer during the loading screen declaring that Darkwood will not be holding your hand. Even on the easiest difficulty, “Normal”, there is little in the way of direction or guidance. In this dark and grimy top down survival horror from Acid Wizard Studios and Crunching Koalas, the sanity of the player is truly put to task.
While an optional prologue does serve as your tutorial of sorts, Darkwood still makes an effort to keep you as lost in the dark as possible. Trapped inside the Silent Forest, players find themselves in control of a mysterious protagonist and with very little context of what has occurred. That shroud of mystery only grows thicker with your progression through the game, provided you can live long enough to progress.
Darkwood’s day and night cycle is one of it’s most important aspects. You’ll find yourself trapped inside of your hide out for at least half of your time with the game, and venturing out into the dark is sentencing yourself to death. If you’re fortunate enough to have a torch or enough fuel to power a lamp beside you at night you’re doing okay, but even in these moments the weight of your perilous situation is looming just on the other side of a closed door. Darkwood doesn’t use jump scares to crank up its discomfort factor. Instead the game relies on the fear of the unknown, what is lurking in the dark, and it amplifies this with terrifying creaks, groans, and other unnerving audio to imply that even your safe house isn’t really all that safe.
During the day you’ll want to explore the Silent Forest, collecting necessary materials and crafting traps and other defenses to help you survive the night. Occasionally you’ll find yourself encountering other characters, such as The Wolfman, The Musician, and The Trader, who will drive the narrative along and encourage you to step away from the safety of your hide out. The crushing difficulty of Darkwood makes these treks high risk, low reward, however. Your initial attempts at the game are going to leave you absolutely determined to never leave the hideout, regardless of what potential carrot on a stick is being dangled before you.
If you want to take the risk and run out into the world to see what’s there, thinking “Hey, if I have to start over because I mess up then at least I’ll have an idea of where things are” then boy, does Darkwood have a surprise for you. Trashing a run that is going poorly and starting over with some new knowledge under your belt is going to go very poorly for you, as Darkwood uses procedural generation for it’s map and events. You can never learn how the game is going to work, because the game works differently every single play through. The most you can hope for is learning to simply exist within the dreaded Silent Forest.
Darkwood is gloriously grotesque and unsettling, but its refusal to help players learn how to survive in it’s dreadful world means that its a game that plays out better in theory than in actual practice. You’ll want to get lost in this game, but actually trying to gain your footing to survive is so frustrating that you quickly lose interest.
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher