New Game Review

Review – Through the Woods (Xbox One)

Through the woods and into a nightmare.

As children, many of us were told stories before bedtime of gallant knights rescuing fair maidens from haggard old witches; of trolls living in deep caverns and beneath bridges; of scary creatures lurking in the dark stealing away young babes from their beds; and of wolves hunting young girls trekking through the woods before a brave huntsman comes to save the day. These are the stories that stick with you and captivate your imagination, but what if the stories were true? What if the bold knight and the valiant woodsman never came to the rescue? What if everything we’ve been told as fairy tales was actually real and existing in world beyond our knowledge? What if your child was taken from you and brought into this world of nightmares and your only choice was to follow? In Antagonist’s Through the Woods, you’ll have to face this possibility alone.

You start off Through the Woods as the protagonist, Karen, living in a remote cabin in the woods in Norway with your son, Espen. Right away you can tell that their relationship is somewhat strained, but you don’t really know why. Shortly after the beginning, Karen sees Espen playing on their rickety old dock and as she runs out to tell him to be careful, she sees him abducted by a strange old man. Without a thought she dives into the water and swims after them. She paddles through a thick mist and arrives on an island. She then has to search frantically through the woods (see there it is, I said it) to find them.

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Thanks, I’ll just take my kid and go…

The beginning of Through the Woods is very slow and somewhat boring. Not a whole lot happens after the kidnapping of Espen for about 30-40 minutes. That might not seem like a long time, but when the whole game is only about 2-3 hours long, that’s a pretty significant chunk of time. I get what they were going for, a woman desperately searching the woods for her son with no map or compass, but instead of experiencing a panicky desperation through unknown territory, I just felt bored and frustrated navigating through woods with nothing around me. You eventually find a town, but it’s obvious it’s been long abandoned with no one to talk to. There are various notes and journal entries to find that start to give you a glimpse of what has transpired there. That’s when things finally start to pick up.

Once things get going in Through the Woods, it picks up the pace pretty quickly. Karen soon discovers that Norse mythology and folklore might not be made up after all and there are evil things hiding in the woods that are more than happy to hunt her. I wish I could say that the various creatures offered a challenge, but this is one area where I was really let down. The build up of the interactions with the monsters is more exciting than the actual encounters. Most of the time you just point your flashlight at them and they run away. The trolls you have to quietly sneak by, but that’s pretty much the only deviation from the point your flashlight “combat” system. I feel like this was a pretty big opportunity for some inventive gameplay, but it felt rushed and lazy.

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I’m sure this troll will be on the internet later.

The graphics aren’t the greatest, but considering Through the Woods was a Kickstarter funded project, it’s somewhat understandable. The character movements are stiff and wooden and it’s particularly noticeable how grainy the textures are in the beginning and end of the game when the sun is up and the increased lighting illuminates these ugly issues. If it had been made by a larger studio, it could have been a lot prettier.

The sound is well done for the most part in Through the Woods, with the sounds of the forest sounding very realistic. The voice acting was the only thing that really struggled, but again, with such a limited budget I’m sure they did the best they could. The limited music was a wise choice, which allowed the natural sounds of the woods to create a darker and scarier feel. A lot of times you really have to rely on keen listening skills to detect when something’s in the area and from which direction they’re coming from. It was a refreshing change from so many of the horror games out now that rely on the same tropes as all the others. Hmm, everything went completely silent, I wonder if something’s going to jump out at me anytime soon?

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Dead men tell no tales.

Overall, Through the Woods is a slow burner, but a game worth playing nonetheless. It starts off feeling like an underwhelming walking sim, but turns into a fast paced creep fest about a third of the way through. It has a few nice twists at the end and a surprisingly deep story. I would have liked to have had more difficulty battling the monsters, but despite its relative ease and pacing issues, I still had a good time playing it. It had a few great ideas and did well with delivering a truly creepy experience.

Graphics: 6.5

Stiff character movements and poor texturing, but not so obvious when the game is dark (which is most of the time).

Gameplay: 7.5

Starts off feeling like a boring walking sim, but opens up into more areas to investigate and interact with. The fights against monsters were too easy and similar.

Sound: 8.0

Wonderful natural sounds of the forest and minimal score to complement the tone of the game. Mediocre voice acting.

Fun Factor: 8.5

Slow start, but turns into a labyrinth of creepy exploration and evading evil creatures. Good twists and story.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Through the Woods is available now on Steam and Xbox One.

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As an avid gamer from childhood, I've come to love and appreciate games from all genres and I work hard finding time to play all of them between work and my two children. Some of my favorite games are: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Dragon Age: Origins, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Bioshock, Street Fighter 2 and Super Mario Land 2.

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