Darkwood introduces itself as a “challenging and unforgiving” top-down horror survival game and it absolutely follows through on that promise.
The influence of classic cult horror is evident right down to the tiny little details, which creates a tense and chilling atmosphere that is consistently creepy throughout the game. The dark sepia colour scheme really works with the eerie music and the striking art style that drops you into a world of shadows and screams.
The design adds to the sense of fear not just through the colour scheme, but the way that you view the world. You see everything directly from above, so the thick foliage and the shadows cast by the forest make everything that bit more mysterious. Curling tree roots look eerily like tentacles, giving even the simplest of natural phenomena a supernatural edge.
You’re introduced to Darkwood through a brief prologue that thrusts you into a tale of isolation and madness. You wake up alone in a derelict house in the woods. The story you need to follow isn’t exactly clear, but you can figure it out by exploring, playing around with the things you find around you.
The sense of loneliness is created brilliantly. It is dark and quiet and the closest thing you find to life for a significant amount of time is a dying dog and a handful of scattered corpses. While it doesn’t explain how the world got so ravaged, you do get the very clear sense that humanity is doomed, and that you’re tangled up in the reason why.
It is a slow-paced game that gives you lots of freedom to explore. There is a sense of a narrative to it, generated largely by the context offered by the prologue, but your primary objective is simply to survive.
Your home is powered by a generator and the lights keep you safe from the things that hunt you in the darkness. During the day, you are free to explore the forest, as long as you keep an eye out for bear traps and poisonous mushrooms. You can complete tasks set by strangers lurking in the further corners of the forest and work on building up your home so that it can keep you truly safe.
Darkwood has truly mastered the art of creating tension in a game. Everything sounds, looks and feels exactly right. It’s easy to play, with fairly basic gameplay, but so much atmosphere that you can’t help but get drawn into it.