Darkwood Review: PS4 Release - Hell
“No hand holding or linear paths. Think, learn and adapt – if you behave recklessly or do not prepare for the night, you will not survive. Each choice you make is permanent and will have an impact on you, or Darkwood’s inhabitants. Every time you play, you will see a different story unfold. A breathing, procedurally generated world for you to explore. Each visit to Darkwood is unique, as all locations and events are randomized.”
For starters, Darkwood is scary as Hell, and in a very unsettling way, because it’s not your usual terror engine. Sometimes it’s not about the things you can see, it’s about the things you can hear, and the audio of Darkwood, combined with the often pitch-black environment, makes for a nail-biting scene.
Darkwood is a game about survival, exploration, and fear, set in mysterious woods somewhere in the territory of the Soviet Bloc. It is a top-down, free-roam, surreal horror experience with a randomized world, taking cues from classic games, where oftentimes you had to figure things out for yourself. By blending RPG, roguelike and adventure elements together with a challenging difficulty, Darkwood aims to please players craving for a deep and rewarding experience.
So the game has started, what do we have?
You are standing in your hideout, and have no idea what to do next. So what do you have at your disposal?
An item Hotbar with 3 slots for immediate use, this gets upgraded later as well as your Backpack, that starts with 12 slots.
There is a workbench in one of the rooms. Workbenches have additional slots, as well as the timber saw and wardrobes to store excess stock in your hideout.
You could even drop excess items on the ground if you run out of space.
Given that this workbench is where you will use most of the scrap metal, nails, wood, and bottles it makes sense to drop them all off here to free up the inventory for scavenging.
Your crafting menu starts with basics such as Bandages with and without Alcohol, Torches and lock picking sets, this expands as you progress.
You will find a generator located outside to power the lights which are very much essential, so make sure you keep it topped up with fuel. At first, it may seem like fuel is a resource that’s hard to come by, but you will quickly find other tanks soon. So make sure to top up that generator.
There’s a kitchen in your hideout for cooking the “protective substance” which is a putrid concoction that gets cooked in a large pot while the vapor is captured and distributed by a network of tubing. This creates a shroud of safety, although the horrors that hide in the darkness still creep their way in if you haven’t fortified your hideout well enough.
Luckily, this vapor requires no maintenance, so you will always have some protection even if you run out of light.
Barricade windows, repair doors, and push furniture against any other openings to bunker down. You can also craft chain traps and bear traps to be used as a line of defense. Be careful though as you can all too easily hurt yourself if you race around too hastily. One effective method is to throw bottles on the floor, this will create broken glass which can be moved around. Luckily, you are wearing shoes, so it’s one way to damage intruder without rising your own health.
Very much a game of patience, and planning, the time you have to roam around outside is limited, and at the beginning of Darkwood there isn’t much explanation as to how to gauge when the darkness is due.
You may notice a change in the aura around you or the color of the light cast by your torch. This means it’s time to start heading back, but still leaving enough time to refill the generator, or set up traps and barricades.
The night feels like it lasts forever, in part due to the terrifying audio cues and sound effects that combined with pure darkness, create an immersive and truly nail-biting experience.
You are not left completely alone with these beasts of the night. A Wolfman appears on your second day and offers a few snide comments before you can trade with him.
This is a great chance to stock up on some fuel and any other bits and pieces you need to stay in the fight. There is no currency in the game, instead, you trade based on the value of your items versus theirs, plus as your reputation goes up, you get a base value that can be used, so just like currency, but called Reputation.
The Wolfman isn’t your only trading buddy though, another stranger appears the following day, with very little explanation as to why he is in your house, what we do know is that it’s the same character you play through the prologue with. Now he is another person to trade with. You will meet a few other inhabitants as you branch out, but that doesn’t happen for a while. It doesn’t make sense at first, but Darkwood is a game that hides some deep secrets about the other inhabitants and events that have led to this moment.
Limited space and a lack of weapons make it a slow starter.
Sacrificing your weapon after defeating one or two stray dogs is fairly standard with your base weapon being a board with nails, and the more durable weapons being too difficult to afford or not having all materials needed to craft it.
The first week plays out, each day venturing to a different location nearby and investigating, searching for gear, fighting off a dog or three, and then heading back home. Over time you will have enough fuel to fill both the generator and saw and still have some spare. You will have also gathered enough wood and nails to fortify your hideout.
So now what?
This is when you work on finding more valuable items, such as the Shiny Stones, and Fabric. These carry high value and are some of the best for trade. Parts to make an axe or the basic kit for a pistol will cost you around 450 points, plus you will want to grab ammo as often as possible once you have gotten to the point of crafting a firearm. So the more valuable the item the better, alternatively you can hunt rabbits and gather dog meat which may be cheap but can be stacked to make up ok trade value.
The overall difficulty of Darkwood stems not from the combat or due to an overwhelming enemy. Instead, Darkwood is a constant challenge in regards to time management, having limited time each day, means a slow beginning as you try to stock up on supplies and upgrade your items and workbench.
Not all items will be available straight away, even if you have all of the required bits and pieces, it may be a simple matter of not having a crafting option. For example, you can splash out for an axe head for 450 trade points, and within a short walk from your hideout, you can find the staff that will be used as a handle. But until it’s a crafting option you’re out of luck, despite being shown how to use it during the prologue.
Get yourself a watch! A couple of shiny stones and some dog meat will yield enough value to trade for a watch, which will display the time in the corner of the screen as long as you carry it in your backpack. Trust us, the ability to gauge when it’s time to head home is priceless, and as you explore deeper into areas like the Silent Forest or Underground Entrance you won’t be able to rely on just your torch to hint at how long you have.
Sure, your character does comment that you need to get back to the hideout before dark. But that isn’t always enough, so just get the damn watch!
Let’s talk about the map and the unique mechanics that are associated with it in Darkwood.
In just about any game that makes use of a traditional map, we slowly unlock areas or have missions and items appear over time. Darkwood not only starts as a blank map showing nothing but the outline of the area, it also doesn’t show your location. The exception to this is that once an area has been discovered and drawn on the map, it will globe red while you are in that particular location.
This mechanic is interesting, and forces you to keep your bearings a little more than usual, often opening the map just to see which spot is glowing red, and using that as a sort of guide for which direction to walk.
There are a few special skills you can learn, which is done through the use of an extract from the strange mushrooms found throughout Darkwood. Each time you extract that mysterious mushroom juice, your syringe fills a little more. Once full, you can use it to learn a new skill such as Mothman, which allows you to self heal once per day, by standing near a. Electric light source, show your coordinates or the ability to see further into the darkness. These skills are only minor buffs overall, but certainly, have their moments of usefulness.
The Darkwood map is broken into three defined sections, with your character’s hideout being in one, and only one way in or out to travel between the sections.
The Silent Forest is the path taken to access the right section on your map, but requiring a bit of work to get through, at the top of your starting section is a burned house, which has someone pacing around, yelling and carrying on behind a large metal door. You can only pass through this house and into the upper section of the map once you have obtained a key for this door.
The Underground Entrance, which is located around the center of your starting section, hides behind a Wardrobe, and once you navigate the darkness you will be met by another Metal door requiring a key. With very little hints as to where you find the keys, your next option is to check and see if the door’s lock can be picked. This works for some locks, but not all, and in the case of the metal doors you are not getting off so easy. So finding keys is essential.
Audio is everything in Darkwood.
The eerie design and animation are already enough to get your skin crawling, even for a top-down with less than realistic graphics. But the thing that really sells this as a horror game is the library of terrifying sounds and audio cues.
If you have a headset, turn it up and get immersed in the horrific world around you, or turn the dial on your speakers right up if you want to jump.
There’s definitely something very unsettling about being trapped in the dark, hearing the growls from creatures, or heavy footsteps approaching your hideout, just waiting for the night to be over.
These cues will also give you a heads up to any Glowing Mushrooms close by so you won’t miss them, or barking dogs, which are a nuisance more than a danger.
You can easily drop some meat as bait, or throw a stone to distract them, but requiring only three hits each with your trusty nail-board makes them a fairly easy enemy to beat. For those who wish to explore the area without interruption, hunting these dogs down is worth the effort.
If you don’t particularly feel like beating a bunch of puppies to death, there’s always those handy and easy to craft bear traps. Set them up, making sure to remember where, and allow wild rabbits to get caught, for this method the more traps the better.
Other enemies you come across fairly regularly, especially at night, are a humanoid figure with antlers, let’s call these guys minions for the sake of this review. The minions are a bit more aggressive than your animal foes, every night they attack, breaking through your barricades and searching your hideout. They have more than enough strength to kill you, but their movement is predictable and they don’t require many hits to take out.
Honestly, the most formidable foe in the early stages of Darkwood, are the giant Deer that can be found grazing in open fields. They charge fast, and hit hard, so, without a proper weapon, they are a very challenging hunt. Once you move through the Silent Forest and into the next section, the creatures become much more terrifying, but they are still stupid, so take advantage of that.
The parts required to make some simple one-shot throw-away pistols are not the most common, with more practical firearms requiring lots of expensive items. That means your options for killing Death-Bambi are few. Even if you were to build several of the aforementioned disposable side arms, the damage they inflict still makes it a tricky target. Plus, in between shots there’s a chance the deer will charge you.
Did someone say cocktails?
While the one-shot and switch out method is a little impractical, it does have room for another weapon in the combo.
Fire a shot at the deer, be ready for the charge so you have a chance at dodging. While the deer is turning back around, through a Molotov Cocktail. The combination will take down the monster using your limited inventory.
It’s worth pointing out that while the events in Darkwood can vary, the game does follow a designed path. So some of the things mentioned in this review may not be relevant to your next playthrough.
Do you think you’re brave enough to survive the horrors of Darkwood?