Monday, May 27

Review: Darkwood [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Survival games tend to not be for the impatient or faint at heart as it is, so when you start one up and it literally tells you that it won’t hold your hand it’s hard not to be a bit nervous. Darkwood opens with a tutorial that also serves as the game’s prologue, somewhat filling you in on the basics of what’s going on and how things work mechanically. The world (at least where you are within it) has been overrun by a forest, people are going a bit insane, fear the night and darkness specifically, and good luck with that. Heavy on ambiance and a sense of creeping dread it gets the horror right, but its mechanics certainly leave something to be desired.

Your days, for the most part, will involve some exploration, trying to collect what resources you can, perhaps bumping into someone to trade, and trying not to get yourself killed. Preparation for night is essential. You’ll want fuel to power a generator, you’ll need wood and some basic supplies to repair and reinforce points of entry to hold off the darkness and the unknown, and you’ll definitely want to find the means to craft things for healing since it can get rough out there.
Just to throw in some extra challenge even when you manage to level up it’s not all good news, while you are able to gain a new skill or perk you’ll also end up burdened with a new downside as well. This both lends an element of strategy to things and is also a decent way of providing some motivation to take multiple cracks at the game in order to see how your choices can affect the outcome.

Getting back to the no hand holding there are some issues that make the experience a little less compelling. There’s definitely a great deal of trial and error involved in things, and your first forays into the unknown will tend to be frustrating as you discover some of the more touchy aspects of the game where triggering traps and things that will harm you can be entirely too easy. I also didn’t always find the interface to be intuitive, in particular struggling to cut wood into planks at one point and that seemed like a silly problem to have. As crucial as being set up for the night is it was really hard to tell when it was formally coming, which just ended up forcing caution and wasting time. To top it off it’s hard not to point out the load times to get rolling feel unusually long as well.

Since the Switch is lacking in survival horror experiences fans of being creeped out are no doubt a bit starved for a compelling experience on the console. Darkwood isn’t by any means a perfect experience but if you’re willing to work with it there are moments where it breaks through and works pretty well. I wish it were a bit more refined and accessible but I also understand that the nature of the genre tends to err on the side of being challenging and typically a bit frustrating anyway. It does at least provide an experience that feels pretty unique, will keep you on edge, and helps flesh out one of the more neglected genres on the platform.

Score: 6.5

  • Definitely keeps you on edge and will make you work for your success
  • The element of risk and reward as you level up adds a layer of strategy I appreciate

  • There’s not holding your hand and then there’s design that’s not very intuitive, there are aspects of the game that unfortunately just aren’t very well-conceived or executed
  • In particular as critical as being set up for the night is it would have been more wise to make it more clear when it begins, which in itself would have escalated tension. As implemented you’ll tend to stop exploring too early which wastes time and is dull
  • The load times stand out as being a bit on the long side