Published on May 19th, 2013 | by Andy Astruc0
Money Shots: Darkwood
I don’t like horror games. Most other folks don’t like them either, I suspect. There is no enjoyment for me in creeping slowly along the corridors of a forgotten castle with nothing but a dying lantern; no joy in the slow shuffle through the fog of a town that seeks to reflect all my darkest secrets and fears back at me. Being hunted by a faceless man in a forest is not fun.
But I still play them, because not everything is about fun. This breed of game, at its best, is about mental challenge. Pushing yourself to overcome. Horror is discomfiting, invasive and dangerous; it is everything you hate coming to get you in the dark. This is, perhaps, what separates a truly horrific video game from those that simply pitch their tent in horrible places. When I play Dead Space or Resident Evil there is horror all around me, but I’m there to enjoy myself. I’ve been given the tools not just to survive, but to dominate the terror. Conversely, I actively avoid playing Amnesia because it’s in control. I need to work simply to exist in its world. For this reason an element of survival is always present in true horror, even if the only thing fighting to survive is the player’s state of mind.
Acid Wizard Studio seem to agree with my perspective, as they’ve created their own piece of survival horror in Darkwood. The game — which is looking for funds on Indigogo this month — has players wake up in a mysterious forest filled with all manner of unknown unspeakables and tasks them with surviving long enough to discover what might be going on. All of this from a seemingly innocuous top-down perspective.
The project in their own words:
Darkwood is a top-down, oldschool, sandbox survival horror set in a procedurally generated, open world. It features RPG and roguelike elements, with intense combat and a eerie atmosphere. Gameplay wise, it has features in common with games like Project Zomboid, Don’t Starve and Teleglitch.
Darkwood certainly wears its influences on its sleeve. The trailer, replete with spooky forests and randomly generated landscapes filled with the tools to live and the means to die, immediately invites comparison to Don’t Starve — although it is an altogether less whimsical take on being trapped in a nightmarish wilderness. Similarly, visions of the lonely player boarding up windows and doors to keep out who-knows-what recollect the frantic and doomed evenings spent protecting a home in Project Zomboid.
Acid Wizard have stated a desire to keep an appropriate balance between horror and survival in Darkwood, with permanent death an ever-present cloud hanging over the player as they attempt to craft whatever they might need from bits and pieces gathered in the environment. There are also plans for character improvement through abilities and perks.
What really seems exciting — in that awful, difficult, gut-churning way — is that the horror aspects are genuinely disconcerting. While surviving in a game like Don’t Starve is a matter of calculating risks and managing time, this title heaps genuine psychological terror onto the pile of worries. The sound design in particular seems like it will be rather off-putting, with rapid heartbeats, strange forest rustlings and the skin-scraping heebie-jeebies brought on by someone playing piano in a dark house at night. When that child offers the player a crude drawing of the monster they saw I had a very strong urge to simply turn off the video and pretend Darkwood never existed.
But it does. I can see it creeping into the corners of my eyes right now. I can hear them outside now, scratching. Darkwood is $18,560 of the way to its modest $40,000 goal as I write this, and hopefully on track to get all the cash it needs. Or not so hopefully, perhaps. I’m very confused and it’s so dark in here. At least I have my duct tape. Precious duct tape.