Darkwood review for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

Platform: PS4
Also On: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Crunching Koalas
Developer: Acid Wizard Studio
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

Have you ever been alone in your house or apartment, late at night, and heard some sort of noise just outside? You?d likely shrug it off as some random animal, or wind rustling the leaves.

But what if it wasn?t?

What if you knew, with absolute certainty, that the noise you just heard was something malicious, clawing and scratching, trying to find a way inside? And what if you had to deal with that every, single, night?

Welcome to Darkwood! Releasing this week for console platforms, Darkwood is a 2D, top-down survival horror game that puts you smack dab in the middle of a terror filled forest, as you attempt to survive each day and night, looking for a way out.

With an emphasis on both the survival and horror aspects of the genre, you?ll slowly explore your surroundings, gathering limited resources, crafting tools, traps and other survival items, and attempt to make it back to your home base before nightfall hits. Once night lands, the outside areas of Darkwood are essentially a dead man?s zone, with all manner of creatures roaming about hungry for the taste of human flesh.

That said, just sitting in your broken down house waiting for dawn isn?t going to cut it. Instead you?ll need to spend resources found out in the field on defense, whether boarding up windows and doors or setting traps for intruders. You have a generator hooked to the house that will eat fuel while on, but it provides enough electricity to power your limited light sources useful for either fending off threats, or to at least see them coming.

One of the most effective things about Darkwood, for me, is the absolutely fantastic use of audio in this game. Going in, I wondered how scary a 2D top down game like this could even be. Having now played it? Pretty damn scary. A lot of that comes down to the sound design coupled with the unsettling visuals. When you?re camped out in the house at night, holed up in a room with doors closed, and you see one door swing open slowly but can?t see why? Yikes. Or when you start hearing knocking noises, indicating someone or something wants in, you?ll feel the hair on the back of your neck start to stand up. It?s super effective at invoking a sense of dread, and while stressful, Darkwood is certainly exhilarating in a way that few games manage.

That said, being a game focused on survival, it comes with mechanics that might not always feel ?fun? to everyone. Gathering resources, crafting, and general menu management works just fine. Resources are limited, but there?s plenty around you to explore and generally scavenge. The map layout is actually pretty neat, emphasizing landmarks as a way of figuring out where you are in relation to your base. The map won?t highlight your specific position, but will fill in landmarks as you find them, leading to what feels like a more natural sense of exploration than you often see.

One aspect that doesn?t quite work, unfortunately, is combat. It?s not broken, but does feel needlessly frustrating considering how often you?ll run into a violent encounter. Your character basically has two attacks, one where you?ll swing your weapon back and hold that position before hitting the attack button to deliver a blow, the other where you?ll just attack without the wind-up, but at a great cost to your stamina meter. What makes this more of a hassle is how quick enemies are in relation to how fast you can swing. This is less of an issue when you?re out in the field, you can opt to run or back away from threats, and can generally get away without too much trouble. But when you?re stuck inside during the night, with limited space to move and no option to escape, you?ll often get pummeled by anything that makes its way inside.

I also felt like melee weapons would break a little too quick in relation to how often I?d get materials necessary to create them, especially when a lot of those materials are also used to build barricades and other necessary items. I realize that this is likely working as intended, but combat feels like it could have had a difficulty tweak or two to make the overall experience more enjoyable and still difficult. To be fair, Darkwood is pretty clear up front that it will present a challenge, and on that aspect, it certainly delivers.

Still, despite my frustrations, I really dig the overall vibe that Darkwood goes for. Again, the sound design is the real champ, making great use of audio cues and sound effects to drive home the horror aspect in a way I wasn?t fully expecting. If you?re looking for an interesting take on the survival horror genre, I think you?d do well to check this one out.

Note: Crunching Koalas provided us with a Darkwood PS4 code for review purposes.

Grade: B+