Darkwood Video Game Review
Written by Ryan Noble
Released by Crunching Koalas (Switch) and Super Rare Games (physical edition)
Developed by Acid Wizard Studio
2017, Rated 18
Game released on 18 August 2018 (PC, Mac), May 2019 (consoles)
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch (reviewed).
Darkwood is a top-down survival horror with an emphasis on survival. There appears to be an ever-expanding forest in Poland that’s spreading and trapping people within as it does. You take on the role of The Stranger, a man searching for his missing key, which just may be his way out of this deadly situation, if he can survive long enough to find it.
With multiple endings, permadeath on higher levels, and whispers of a 51-hour playtime (although I imagine this greatly varies by player), there’s plenty for gamers to get into this Halloween. If you’re ready, grab your torch, and let’s head into Darkwood.
Before I get into the review for real, though, I need to send some praise elsewhere…
Super Rare Games crafts nostaglic physical bundles
This is my first time experiencing a limited-edition physical release from Super Rare Games, but I completely get the hype now. Their attention to detail makes the game truly feel rare and it’s something that only people who love games and their ongoing physical preservation could do.
Each game comes in sleek packaging with a Super Rare Games sticker and game-specific collector’s cards; a combination that leaves you feeling like you really have bought into something exclusive. The game also has a little information booklet inside, something that feels incredibly nostalgic since so few games have them nowadays.
Honestly, 10/10 for the physical release on Nintendo Switch. Consider me converted.
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Delving into the dark woods
Darkwood is a game that, in theory, is pretty simple. Every day, you leave the safety of your house in search of supplies to help you survive, whether that be food, materials for first aid or crafting items, or the wood and nails needed to barricade your windows for further protection. It sounds so simple, but it isn’t.
Not only is the outside world full of rabid dogs and creatures who wish to do you harm, but – if you’re anything like me – the suffocating nature of this dark, infected world will have you feeling anxious about leaving the house at all.
In fact, this game’s success lies so deeply in the darkness of your own feelings and unique player experiences that I felt this review needed something a little different…
So, here’s my journal of my attempted survival in my first few days of Darkwood, covering gameplay elements and emotional impact at the same time. I hope you enjoy it.
I woke up in an abandoned house. There was a gaping hole in the kitchen wall which I unsuccessfully tried to cover with a wardrobe, and only one window was barricaded, but it was something. It was the only landmark I knew in the area, so it’s become my base for now, whether I liked it or not.
As soon as I mustered up the courage to head outside, I saw something. It looked vaguely human. Not good enough for me. I didn’t even have a weapon yet, so I went the other way. Big mistake. A rabid dog was waiting for me and I sprinted deeper into the woods which seem to surround my house on all sides, driven by fear.
When I finally lost that four-legged demon, I discovered a burned-down house and collected a few supplies, including some fuel for the generator at the house. If I planned on making it through the night, I’d need this to power the lights and potentially deter any creatures who might come along. I also harvested some strange mushrooms for cooking – something I can cook to build experience and eventually unlock new abilities.
My torch cut through the growing gloom of these woods and I froze with every snap of a twig, creaking floorboard, or booming crack of thunder as a heavy storm passed over. I felt at mercy to the elements out there and I could barely see a few metres in front of me when the storm was at its worst. I couldn’t tell if it was getting darker or if I was just deep into the shade of gnarled trees, but not knowing was killing me…
Before I knew it, true night was falling. The sun rises and sets like clockwork around here, so from 8am-8pm I brave the wilderness and scavenge for supplies. Then from 8pm-8am, I hide inside and pray nothing finds me. Without a watch to track the hours, I keep an eye on the sky and hope for the best.
I’d managed to stay close to the house, despite my earlier chase, so I huddled next to the one lamp in the kitchen and kept an eye on the window I’d not yet been able to barricade.
It was a long night.
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As the sun came up, there was a strange man standing in my kitchen. Well, there were two – I think – although the days were already starting to bleed together in this strange place. One was called The Wolfman, some kind of man-wolf hybrid, and he sets up camps around these woods where I can find him to trade for supplies. And then there’s the other… I’m not sure if he has a name, but he seems friendly enough.
For each of these strange characters, I can show them items I’ve found – such as a photograph of a long, empty road – to see what they make of them, gossip to see if they feel like sharing any information, or trade. Trading seems to be based on reputation, something that increases with each day I survive or with each item I’m willing to give to them. I don’t have much to offer yet…
I explored a bit further today and followed confetti to the remains of a wedding, set next to a cornfield. My torch light shone through the gaps in the fields and every fibre of my being was on edge, hoping it wouldn’t flash across something hostile. Somewhere within the fear, I wondered what happened to this poor bride and groom. Were they still alive? Unlikely.
More dogs found me, and I sprinted to a house in the distance, slamming the door behind me. I managed to scavenge enough supplies to craft a bandage to heal myself and I waited for their growls to grow distant.
One door in the house was locked, and when I tried it, a voice from inside begged me to leave. I did, stopping just long enough to pick up a battery and a metal pipe, although I don’t yet know what I’ll do with them. I also found some more fuel in an abandoned tractor behind the house, so I headed back.
I went further today and explored for longer. Careless. The sun set before I could get home and, with anxiety tight in my chest, I tried to find it using my awful sense of direction, my torch, and a map with discovered locations marked.
Even when I somehow found it, I had to risk a few more moments in the darkness to refuel my generator for the night. I hugged the walls of the house and crept round to the front door, hoping there was nothing out there with me. I waited by the light of the lamp once more.
When the sun rose again, I felt frozen in fear…
I was still injured from my run-in with the dogs yesterday and I didn’t have a weapon. I thought about just staying in the house all day, but it’s almost as if the day doesn’t begin without me in these damn woods, so, after I stashed a few unnecessary items in my wardrobe, I left.
Before long, I found another abandoned house and took everything I could find, including a few nails and a rope that had been hidden in the floor under a set of drawers.
At that point, I realised I’m further from the house than I’d ever been, so I was already on edge when I found the underground tunnels. I felt compelled to search them. Maybe there were survivors in here, or, at worst, supplies they’d left behind. I descended.
In the darkness, deep into the winding tunnels, I found a rucksack with some supplies, so it almost seemed worth the risk… Then I heard it. I wasn’t alone down there.
Something was coming for me in the darkness and I sprinted, half-watching my stamina levels depleting and half-watching the tunnels in front of me, hoping I was taking the right turns to reach the exit in time.
I made it outside and didn’t stop until I made it back home. What was that? Did it follow me? I vow to never go back in those tunnels again… At least not without a weapon.
I cooked some more mushrooms, unlocking the ability to see my position on the map once per day, and barricaded the nearest window with scavenged nails and wood. At least I’d rest easier tonight.
I managed to find the The Wolfman’s camp today. It was marked on my map, but I’d never summoned up the courage to go that far from the house before. We traded a few items, notably wood and nails. As the sun began to fall, I stumbled across an abandoned lumber yard and was able to find more logs than I could even carry. Jackpot.
Back at the house, with one eye on the growing shadows, I put some precious fuel into the wood saw out front and broke up the logs into usable wood. Seeing my fuel disappear so quickly was concerning, but now I’d managed to board up every single window in the house, I felt more confident about the coming nightfall.
I even had enough left over to make a weapon: a flimsy board with nails. Better than nothing.
Once again, I flipped the generator on and it hummed to life, signalling the beginning of another dark, sleepless night. I wonder who, or what, might find me in tonight…
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Something broke in last night.
There were knocking sounds all around the house and something tried to break through the barricade right by me. I waited. I listened. I watched. Then, the door leading into the room where I huddled just… opened.
I crept closer – barely daring to breathe – when something leapt from the darkness, trying to kill me with a pipe clenched in its hands. I beat it to death with my crude weapon, already looking worse-for-wear with repeated use, and checked its corpse for anything useful. Nothing.
I think it used to be human.
Soon, dawn approached, and the strange trader appeared in my kitchen once again, willing to trade. I bought another mushroom and cooked it immediately, levelling up again and unlocking the ability to see further into the distance for signs of danger or supplies.
I ventured even further from the house today, searching for undiscovered landmarks or supplies, but this area seems almost picked clean. I think I’ll have to travel to the next area of the woods soon… I’m not ready. I’m living day by day and I have no idea what’s out there.
Worried about just surviving one more night before making any bold decision, I wasn’t paying attention until I heard a howl. Dogs. They’d been tearing chunks of flesh off a corpse… ‘til they’d seen me. With a chorus of barks, they’d given chase and I tried to fend them off with my weapon before it broke. Then, I ran.
If I could just make it back to the house, I’d be okay. No time to check the map. I picked a vague direction and hoped for the best. My stamina ran out long before I found safety, and the inevitable finally happened. The dogs tore me apart and…
I was home again. I… didn’t understand it. I was alive. I’d dropped everything I had on me, but the map was marked with the locations I’d been just before. – luckily, the map is marked to show where I was when it happened.
There was nothing to do but pick myself up and get back out there.
I need to find more supplies or a way out of this damned woods… It’ll be dark again soon.
To be continued…
Well, did you like my diary? If you were picking up on a sense of dread, anxiety, and an all-round desire to stay safely in my house at all times, then you now understand how playing Darkwood will make you feel.
With its punishing survival gameplay and suffocating atmosphere – which it nails with unnerving visuals, horrifying sound design, and an incredibly bleak world – it’s truly the perfect game for Halloween. I wasn’t sure if a top-down game could create such a sense of fear in me, but, without doubt, this is one of the tensest games I’ve experienced recently.
I’d highly recommend joining me in these dark woods. Maybe you’ll be able to give me some survival tips…
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