Entering the Woods
There once was a time when “the woods” was a scary place to behold at night. Branches breaking underneath your feet, winds stirring up leaves all around you, and beings of the night watching your every move. Through the Woods brings back the memories of what people (especially parents) like to tell their children about the woods in order to keep them out of it. When the protagonist’s son is kidnapped and taken to an island, it is up to the mother to come to the rescue. Be wary that this game really burdens you with the feelings of loss and loneliness in a terrifying place.
Through the Fear
The island has such a strong sense of reality, instilled with so much beauty, history, and fear. Homes were left in shambles, human remains are scattered every 100 feet, and bodies are left hanging from trees. Nightmarish creatures inhabit this land, all taken from Norse mythology and Norwegian folk tales, and the island’s extremely gruesome happenings are the stuff of bedtime stories told to young rebellious Vikings. 10 foot trolls patrol various caves, hideous hulders lurk in the dark to seek your demise, and the warg brothers are unrelentless in their pursuit of your flesh, but nothing can compare to the reason why our dear little Espen was taken from us.
What makes Through the Woods so lovely from a horrific standpoint, is that the game’s scare tactics are utilized on so many levels. Not knowing what is in the dark, heck even knowing it is worse, adds psychological and subdermal layers fear, tainting every step throughout the luscious scenery. Fantastic use of shadow play makes it feel like you are being herded to your death, and reading the diaries left behind from victims or their family members instill a strong sense of dread regarding the island’s darkest secret. Adding in survival aspects transforms what would have been another neat walking simulator, to the next level.
Now I’ve never understood why many walking simulators refuse to incorporate more forms of interaction, especially ones regarding survival mechanics. All it takes is a couple running sequences or the idea that you can indeed die, and everything will be for the better. Through the Woods incorporates variable sprinting speeds (on gamepads) because it knows that running will be needed for your survival. Not only will you be sprinting away from the things that go “bump” in the night, but you will also be doing it because the island is freaking huge. The massive environment has so many twists and turns and forestry that it is real easy to get lost. Although progression is fairly linear, there is almost always 2 or 3 paths to get where the game wants you to go, and I definitely appreciate the idea that I’m not locked in a fancy corridor. Other than the houses, a lot of the environments seem to be hand-crafted to ensure maximum impact, providing so many picturesque moments. If you’ve played Firewatch that was released earlier this year, then you might be able to relate when I say that this game has a very similar vibe and design, albeit with a different art style.
Going back to the survival aspects, Through the Woods utilizes creatures with different weaknesses. Even though all of them can manage to suss out your general location, knowing what will and won’t work (usually from trial and error) is crucial in improving your chances of living to see the next killer. I’ve found that crouch-walking around trolls, blinding hulders, and burning the wolves are fairly successful approaches, for a time. A couple larger beings must be avoided entirely, lest you want to become a blood splatter off the beaten path. At a closer look, nothing is really that horrific, but their concept and capability of making you start over, even if only a few hundred feet back, is enough to create that fear and dread I’ve been looking for. Furthermore, several sequences are designed to force the player to partake in these survival challenges. There is just no way around some of them, and it is fortunate that these aspects were successfully implemented.
I am very glad that Antagonist didn’t succumb to the socially-accepted practice of keeping multiple types of genre mechanics separate. This union of survival and adventure is a new kind of breed that shows the product of developers breaking away from the norm. There are still a lot of things that hold the game back, such as lengthy load times, minor graphical bugs, and poor voice acting/character model animations, but these problems are far from debilitating. In fact, when the story concluded I felt a longing for more, lamenting the end of my journey through the island. Through the Woods imparted such a wonderful expression of Norse and Norwegian tale, I can only wish that Antagonist or other studios would eventually do the same for other ethnic stories. This makes it very easy for me to recommend Through the Woods to fans of walking sims/horror adventure games, or anyone wanting to experience the dark sides of Norse mythology and Norwegian folk tales.