Darkwood is top-down survival horror game in which you explore a mysterious forest in a search for answers to questions you don't fully understand. Somewhere in the Eastern Bloc surrounded by dense, consuming woodland, this eerie, surreal tale will see you experience an ever-changing, free-roam world by day and barricade yourself in against the terrors outside by night.
After beginning life on Indiegogo in 2013, Darkwood has come a long way from Early Access to full release. The top-down, fear-inducing gameplay, which is soaked in a tense kind of paranoia, makes it easily comparable to the Hotline Miami series, but what Darkwood has to offer is a truly different experience for the genre. With a unique blend of survival, roguelike and RPG elements, Acid Wizard Studio's game presents a new perspective on the horror genre, which has been firmly cemented in the first-person realm for quite a while now.
From the beginning of the game, players are thrust into a complex narrative in which you play multiple roles, and randomly generated content, alternate story paths, and optional endings combine to make the narrative even more unique. In a tale reminiscent of the surreal qualities of Twin Peaks, Darkwood sits somewhere between the X-Files and S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl. It's this strange design that makes Darkwood so convincing as a horror, as the devs aren't going for jump scares here - it's a more psychologically unnerving experience.
Mechanically, the game is built with two gameplay elements in mind -
one is the survival and crafting part that sees you scavenging for materials and creating new tools, and the other is the top-down combat and exploration that admittedly takes a while to master in this unforgiving environment. The controls do take some getting used to as the camera (and thereby the cone of light that projects from the player's point of view) moves slightly differently when walking compared to sprinting. The combat mechanics take a similar period of adjustment, as you hold the right mouse button to prime the swing or shot and time your releases for impact. When Darkwood's fast and terrifying enemies are crawling out the woodwork it's easy to find yourself fumbling over the controls.
The crafting menu system is far less complex and is generally what you would expect from a survival game. You gather supplies and combine them at workbenches to create new tools and expand your arsenal, and you also have to upgrade your workbench in order to create the game's most powerful weapons. By the time you get a gun you'll feel more than accustomed to beating your enemies to death with whatever you have to hand, and it's an extremely powerful feeling to have a shotgun or rifle, as they are highly scarce, particularly in the early game.