*Editors Note: The Hype Machine is a column produced by the various writers of OmniGamer. Its purpose is to inform readers on games that they think you should try out, and is not based on time playing the game.
Darkwood is a 2D, top down survival horror game set in a forest somewhere in Eastern Europe during an alternate 20th century. It has a big emphasis on, surprisingly enough, survival and horror, and the developers (Acid Wizard Studio) have stated that they want to create a “true balance” between the two. This currently-alpha game is brimming with potential, and here are just a few reasons to be excited about Darkwood.
Survival is your primary goal in Darkwood, and for good reason. As a mute character suffering from acute amnesia, you’ll be fending off all sorts of terrifying beasts while also trying to uncover the mystery of who you are, with a little help from a young orphan boy who seems to know you. In a lot of games, this wouldn’t really be much of a challenge. However, in Darkwood, you have to keep your wits about you, and think outside the box. Every new game begins with a new, procedurally generated world, so you have no idea what kind of beasties you’ll have to contend with each time around. You’ll be doing that a lot, by the way; starting again, that is. Darkwood, like many recent indie games, sports a permadeath system. If you’re dead, you’re dead, no extra lives, no checkpoints. You have to prepare yourself, both in terms of gameplay as a character and psychologically as a player, because if you just charge in without a plan, without preparation, you’ll end up dead and rotting. Darkwood is designed to be “oldschool hard”.
Horror is everywhere in Darkwood. The atmosphere of the game looks to be brilliant, with haunting piano pervading your ears, and the sound of your heartbeat suddenly giving way to deathly silence. In terms of audio, Acid Wizard Studio have really created something brilliant. The graphics, too, really reflect the dark world of Darkwood. Inky black shadows cover the landscape, only to disappear when you turn your character’s line of sight, revealing some new terror for you to face. Or perhaps reveal nothing at all, in which case you just know the monster has moved behind you. It’s designed to be eerie, relying on psychological horror rather than cheap jump scares. You will never really feel safe in Darkwood.
That’s not to say that you can’t prepare yourself, however. Darkwood will have a fully realized crafting system that you can use to barricade doors, create new items and traps, or improve what you’ve already got. This crafting system really opens up the world in terms of tactical gameplay. In one pre-alpha gameplay video, we saw the player blunder into a dangerous enemy that they were unable to kill due to its speed. The player, in retreat, managed to find an abandoned house nearby. Knowing that the creature chasing them was a carnivore, they quickly set up a bear trap and placed some meat inside it to lure the creature closer. They then retreated to the house, but not before dousing the trap in gasoline and dribbling a trail of the substance behind them to a window. As soon as the creature investigated the meaty treat, the bear trap snapped shut and held the monster in place, but not killing it. At this point, the player then pulled out a match, and threw it onto the trail of gasoline, lighting up a line of fire to the trap and roasting the beastie alive, its scream ringing out across the dark landscape. This is just one application of the lateral thinking and crafting system that Darkwood begs you to play with. Remember, each element of the previous scenario was not explicitly designed to be used together; the game was simply giving you the tools to make your own death traps and aid your survival.
The top down perspective is an interesting one to take in a horror game. Many would be put off by this choice, but Darkwood is not a game designed for the lowest common denominator. The developers had this to say:
“A top-down perspective hinders your ability to clearly identify what you see on the screen. We embrace it. It’s much less literal that way, and forces your imagination to work and visualize things you can’t clearly see in the game. We find the fear of the unknown to be very strong and want to evoke that feeling not only through the gameplay, but also the art style. This makes experiencing the game closer to reading a book, letting your imagination run wild.”
Darkwood is also an RPG, with a full skill tree with which to improve your character. However, you’re also going to need to become knowledgeable as an actual player. Missions, enemies and items don’t just appear on your minimap, you have to work them out, find them and overcome them all by yourself. For instance, in the previous scenario of the burning creature, the player not only had to know that meat would attract them, but that the creature would be stupid enough not to realize that it is a trap. Darkwood is an entirely original world, with some obvious David Lynch influences, but you will have to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the enemies yourself. There’s no hand-holding at all. You will have to learn the best way to survive in this eerie dark world; no one is going to tell you how to do it. Darkwood is a game of discovery as much as it is survival.
Darkwood is slated to be released in 2014, and has just finished its IndieGoGo campaign, having reached its requirements as well as the first of its stretch goals. If you’re a fan of David Lynch or games like Don’t Starve and Project Zomboid, you’d be doing yourself a favour in giving Darkwood at least a quick glance. This looks slated to become a real cult classic, and if you’re a fan of real difficulty, true survival, and a genuinely immersive and terrifying world, you’d be a fool to miss out on Darkwood!
More information including gameplay videos, screenshots and features is available on Darkwood’s website on www.darkwoodgame.com.