Alternate Realities: Darkwood

Well, having started the idea of talking about video games, I wanted to continue it.  Roger has been covering anime, and I’ve been talking about the season-by-season review from every era of Doctor Who, but I paused in October to talk about scary shows.  Well, why stop there?  The list of good scary games is vast.  Some are eerie, some are hyper violent, and some are just amazing… while some are pretty lame!  For the first Saturday of October, let’s start off lite…

“Ford carried on counting quietly. This is about the most aggressive thing you can do to a computer, the equivalent of going up to a human being and saying “Blood…blood…blood…blood…”, says Douglas Adams in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  It struck me as very funny because, really, who does that?  Is this a common thing to run up to a person and say?  Well, it seems most horror movie and TV show creators actually must have taken this to heart.  They love gore.  But gore doesn’t make for a good horror story.  It just adds red.  It can be used to positive effect, but is rarely needed.  Take the video game Darkwood for example.  darkwood

Darkwood is a top-down, survival RPG, put out by Acid Wizard Studios.  It is dark.  It is isolated.  It is deeply oppressive.  It is extremely atmospheric.  You play an unnamed mute man trapped in a forest with little background on what is going on.  Daytime is spent scavenging for materials to try to work out how to get out of the woods.  But after dark, nightmare creatures attack.  You’re constantly watching for signs of the sun going down unless you can find a watch, just so you know you have enough time to make it back to safety.  And that term is used loosely.  You can barricade the place you’re staying, board up the windows, even arm yourself just in case something gets in, maybe you can beat it to death, but chances are, you’ll be dead by dawn.  But you know what is conspicuous by its absence?  The blood.  It’s not that you are not rooting about through corpses to find what you need to stay alive, but there’s no gore.  The horror is totally in the dark; in not knowing what is just outside your visual range.  It’s not knowing if the thing trying to get in will crawl through the floor by your feet.  Will the lights stay on or will the power go out?  The sound of the generator dying was the sound of impending doom.  Worse, hearing light bulbs pop…. Oh, the terror this would induce!

darkwood in the rain

A scene of the main character wandering the woods in the rain… shotgun ready, and nearly out of bullets.

When you do speak to people, if you can call them that, you’re given a picture with a choice of responses.  The way you respond may not influence much but you get that RPG element that adds something for the otherwise mute game.  The music is subtle and tense, like everything else in the game.  Like many survival games, you have stamina, or more accurately, you barely have stamina, meaning when running from a rabid dog, or feral human, you’re praying you have enough breath to get you over that fence… Frequently, I found myself tense as night fell and the waiting began.  Then the noises would start… the scratching… the howling…

Darkwood is available on Steam for $15.  It’s not a long game, it’s not a processor intensive game, and it’s not one you could play for more than about the 20 odd hours it takes to complete.  It’s too unnerving.  It’s a good game!  It’s just tense!  You might think it a good thing that the overnight hours go by in seconds; I think I clocked 5 minutes real time for the full 12 hours of night in the game; that’s only a 5 minute hold-out while trying to stay alive!  But they feel interminable.

Darkwood losing my religion

That’s me in the corner, losing my … mind.  What you’re seeing is that I’ve barricaded myself in a room using a bath tub and I’m praying that the light does not go out, while a corpse lies in a neat pile on the floor… please let daylight come!  Oh yeah, night starts in 11 minutes!  I was just getting ready!

By the time I was done, I was ready to move onto another game but the images, the play style and the story were unique and memorable.  And perfectly eerie to start playing in October.  Have a flashlight ready, a hammer, some nails and a few planks, and hunker down for a few hours of terror…  ML

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