Through The Woods – Xbox One Review
If You Go Down To The Woods Today……
A lot of horror games these days rely on the easy option of jump scares to frighten the player and get the adrenaline pumping but Through the Woods bucks that trend by building tension through storytelling and atmospheric gameplay to keep you on edge and portray an almost constant feeling of dread. It’s a story that’s steeped in Norse folklore and mythology and gets progressively darker as you go deeper into the narrative.
You play the part of Karen, a widow taking a break in a cabin in western Norway with her young son Espen. They don’t have the closest of relationships as Karen is too involved in her work projects, preferring to work late into the night and sleep during the day instead of engaging with her son. At the story’s opening as the pair arrive at the cabin, Karen tells Espen to stay away from the wooden pier as its unsafe. Of course you know what is going to happen next, as Karen awakes the next day, looks out and sees Espen standing at the end of the pier with an old man. Before she can get to them, they both get into a small boat and disappear into the mists on the lake. The panic stricken Karen jumps into the water and swims after them, and when the mist clears she comes ashore at a rocky forested island that looks far from friendly. This is emphasised when you first look up at the fractured moon, a very spooky sight. You must explore the island and its dangers to find out where your son has gone, with the atmospheric and detailed graphics leaving you in no doubt that this island is terrifying place to be. The terror goes up a few notches as night soon falls, leaving you wandering in the dark before finding Espens flashlight to use as your only illumination.
There is no combat in Through The Woods but its far from a walking sim as you need to have your wits about you to avoid getting killed by the horrors that roam this countryside. As you have no fighting skills, you have to avoid the monsters in different ways: the huge trolls wont see you if you’re quiet and crouch in the shadows before sneaking past, but in contrast to avoid being attacked by the screeching Huldra you have to shine your flashlight in her face, so that means not letting her creep up behind you. This fear of getting killed makes the action very tense , looking for any small movement in the darkness or a telltale sound that warns of danger. The AI of the monsters is well developed and they react well to you without following any discernible pattern. You’ll nearly always hear them first with their unearthly sounds, making you study every shadow for any movement out of the ordinary. At these moments you’re constantly on edge and you get a real sense of relief when you reach an area of safety. As with the best horror films, its what you don’t see that builds the fear as the game plays tricks with your mind. Even when you’re killed its more chilling as the camera focuses on your dropped torch while you listen to Karen’s screams and the sound of her flesh being ripped apart.
There are few other characters to interact with, as you come across deserted settlements and explore the basic or derelict dwellings. The story is advanced by reading notes that have been left by those that have been there before. It’s a bit of an implausible mechanic that people always leave a note minutes before their impending deaths but its very convenient and the developers get away with it by just revealing enough of a teaser to keep you pressing on for more. Most of the time, you’ll find the bodies of those that have been killed or committed suicide rather than succumb to the inevitable. A depressing story of the supernatural and child sacrifice is slowly revealed as you progress, and the few characters you do meet have been driven mad with grief and guilt or kill themselves in front of you.
The writing is another aspect of what elevates Through The Woods above the ordinary, with very good character development. As you get deeper into the story you find out more about not only why Espen has been taken but also more about Karen’s back story, how she came to be widowed and her relationship with her son, as it leaves you becoming less sympathetic to the character you’re playing as. This aspect reminds me a Silent Hill back in the day, as it turns out your character is not a particularly nice person yet you still need to focus on keeping them safe.
The graphics are full of depth the environments very well drawn, with superb lighting giving layers of darkness to the scenery. The animation of the main character is adequate although a wider range of movement would’ve been nice. The only time the let was a let down was when changing between different areas of a level the screen would freeze for a few seconds, but luckily not for long enough for it to become irritating. It just highlights that the game reflects its budget and shows its just a little rough around the edges. Some of you might’ve checked out the YouTube videos of the gameplay which were mainly from the PC version released in 2016, and one complaint was the poor standard of the voice acting. The good new is that the narration has been overhauled for the console version and the acting is of a much higher standard, keeping you immersed in the story.
If you’re a fan of dark Scandinavian dramas, you wont be assuming that there is automatically going to be a happy ending to the story, and from what goes before it in this game it comes as no surprise that everyone doesn’t live “happily ever after” at the conclusion, but the climax is very satisfying all the same in its own twisted evil way. The achievement list encourages further plays through as there as all the notes and collectible items to hunt out that are hidden in the islands less accessible areas, many of which are easy to miss first time around as you fumble about in the dark. With its cerebral storyline, great character development and its ability to ramp up the fear factor without relying on cheap jump scares, Through The Woods is definitely worth checking out.
Publisher: 1C Company
Many Thanks to 1C for the review copy.