By Michael Fontanini / June 3rd, 2015
How far would you go to save your young, kidnapped son? That’s the scenario in Through the Woods, a third-person psychological horror game that’s currently on Kickstarter. Time is running out, though, as it has yet to reach its funding goal of $40,000 by June 14. The game is planning to land on PC, Linux and Mac. It takes place in Norway, and is heavily inspired by Norwegian mythology and folktales. The art style is also inspired by the melancholy styles of several Norwegian artists. The setting for the game is a wooded area somewhere in Norway. Parents here have long told their kids a story about “Old Erik,” a creepy figure who kidnaps naughty children.
The story follows a mother named Karen Dahl, who is being interrogated and relives the events of that awful night in the process. As you progress, you hear the interrogation as she retells her story of the night her son, Fillip, was kidnapped. To Karen’s horror, the “Old Erik” folktale has seemingly come true. This is what drove her to enter the woods as she desperately searches for her son. While the woods seem relatively docile at first, she discovers all too soon that she is not alone. There are many dangers lurking in the depths of the night.
As you explore the mysterious woods under night’s shroud of darkness, you will encounter various creatures and monsters. Some will be truly hostile while others are only interested in protecting their territories from intruders. There are very real dangers lurking in the depths of these woods, and you will usually hear them before you see them. You can turn off your flashlight to focus your hearing on whatever lurks beyond the area you can see. This will, of course, make it harder to navigate, but also makes you harder to see for that which lurks just out of sight to find you. The developers call this trade-off their night-blindness / sound focus mechanic.
As you advance ever deeper into the mysterious woods, the tension slowly rises, putting you more and more on edge. You can see fairly well at first, as there is no fog or mist (it may appear in later areas that are not in the prototype, but, either way, it would add to the tension). Only the darkness obscures your vision, but it can be parted by your flashlight (the only real aid in your spooky adventure).
As you can see in the screenshot above (and the one below), the environments in Through the Woods are very well crafted. The various locales are very detailed and filled with a melancholy atmosphere. Sometimes you will encounter objects along the way that hint at what’s happened. The game focuses on exploration and atmosphere over jump scares, to keep you on edge with an ever-present tension. According to the Through the Woods Kickstarter page, players will also find bits of lore throughout the forest, as well as runes carved on trees or rocks that can be translated with some ingenuity.
There isn’t much music in Through the Woods, as it focuses heavily on being a very atmospheric experience. It favors using your own imagination to scare you over cheap jump scares, but there are real dangers in the woods. I got killed by a giant, for example. Your own imagination is not your only enemy in Through the Woods. The sound effects do their job well, and will stop you in your tracks when you hear something nearby. Then you must decide whether it is wise to keep your flashlight turned on or not.
The developers stated on their Kickstarter page for Through the Woods that they are trying to recreate the way they saw the woods as children. They have succeeded in creating that creepy vibe that your child-self would’ve gotten from the woods. The developers have created some very well-crafted environments for players to explore, and in creating a slowly rising and ever-present tension as you venture ever deeper into the shadows. After my time with the prototype (a half hour or so, since it’s a very early version), I feel that Through the Woods has a great deal of potential, and is certainly a game to keep your eye on if you like horror games. I look forward to seeing how this game progresses.
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