When first booting up Darkwood, players are greeted by a warning that the game will not hold their hand. And it certainly does not. Inspired by games like Dark Souls, Darkwood is a game aimed directly at the hardcore gaming crowd. This means that some players will find Darkwood straight up inaccessible, but those who take the time to push through its many challenges will be rewarded for their efforts.
Darkwood is a bizarre, top-down survival-horror game with some roguelike and survival elements tossed into the mix for good measure. Unlike many other survival games, players aren't bogged down with hunger meters or anything like that, and so there is less micromanaging and more time to immerse oneself in the game world.
Darkwood's world is its strongest feature. Players are largely left to their own devices and tasked with exploring a dark, overbearing forest that's filled with all sorts of frightening things. Oddly enough, the deadly animals and relentless monsters aren't even what makes Darkwood scary. It's stumbling upon things like a "ghost wedding" or a mysterious wolf-man NPC that make Darkwood a haunting experience.
Darkwood successfully creates a creepy atmosphere that will make even veteran horror game players jumpy. Even simply standing in the hideout waiting for morning can be plenty scary, as there is always the threat that someone, or something, can break in and wreak havoc on the player.
Darkwood uses a "day"/night cycle that largely dictates the flow of the gameplay. Players are encouraged to explore the woods during the day to find supplies, like boards to barricade windows or key items to progress the plot, and at night, they need to hunker down in their hideout. As long as they have a fully-gassed generator and have properly barricaded their hideout, players should be safe until morning. However, players who fail to prepare for the night will likely find themselves murdered by the strange beings that appear once the sun goes down.
Running back to the hideout as night falls can be the source of some truly heart-pounding moments in Darkwood, but once players are safe, the nights themselves can be pretty dull. Later in the game players may have enough to do in terms of cooking things on the stove and crafting to fill their nights, but the first few hours will largely be spent just standing around waiting for the next day to come. As one might imagine, this can be pretty boring at times.
The early hours of Darkwood are tedious for other reasons as well. For one, it can be difficult for new players to amass the supplies they need to survive each night or find weapons to defend themselves. Later in the game, players will have more to work with, but having to just accept repeated deaths at the start can be annoying.
Secondly, actually exploring the game world can be frustrating, though it's likely a necessary evil. Exploring the woods is purposefully confusing, and while that does help with creating the sense of dread that Darkwood cultivates so masterfully, it sometimes makes the game feel like a chore to play.
Crafting and inventory management can also be cumbersome, which seems largely due to the transition from PC to console. Darkwood's original PC release saw it named one of the best horror games of 2017, but it doesn't quite reach the same heights on consoles, partly due to the messy inventory management.
Darkwood certainly has its missteps when it comes to the gameplay, but at its core, it's still better than many similar survival titles out there. As previously mentioned, the game benefits quite a bit by ditching hunger and thirst meters that most survival games use. Without having to micromanage these meters, players are able to be more actively engaged in the interesting aspects of the game, namely experiencing the story and finding strange things out in the world. Too many survival games are bogged down by hunger and thirst meters, so it's nice to see Darkwood put them aside.
As previously mentioned, Darkwood's main focus is on its world and creating a creepy atmosphere. The game's bizarre story adds to the creepiness, though we imagine that there are some people that will find it nonsensical. The game developers cite David Lynch (the man behind Eraserhead and Twin Peaks) as an inspiration, so that shouldn't be too surprising. It's best that players experience the story for themselves so we won't go into specifics, but the game's macabre scenes can be interpreted in many different ways. And thanks to the multiple endings and the way player choice impacts the fates of the characters, it's likely that people will come a way from Darkwood with different thoughts about what really transpired during the game's events.
Darkwood's story is twisted and full of weird characters and unnerving moments. The ultra-tough gameplay is likely to turn quite a few people off and it can be tedious, but those that stick with Darkwood will be rewarded with a memorable survival-horror game that will linger with them long after they've conquered its nightmares.
Darkwood is out now for PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. Game Rant reviewed the game on PS4.