I love myself a horror game, hell, I cant get enough of them. I grew up with all of the classics, from Resident Evil and Silent Hill, right up to Alien Isolation and Layers of Fear. The genre has come a long way since it properly rooted back in the mid-90’s, spanning several categories and sub-genres in the process. Nowadays we have adventure horror, puzzle horror and even walking-sim horror experiences. Some would argue that the genre has become a little crammed as of late, but this genre in particular can afford the diversity. The one constant, however, that any given horror game needs to achieve from the get-go, is setting up a tense atmosphere that immediately relays a feeling of unease.
Silent Hill 2 undoubtedly nails this the best. James’ long and drawn out trek to get to Silent Hill not only put forward a tense atmosphere, but it slowly isolated the player and made them abundantly aware of that. It’s this care and attention to detail that we see very little of these days. Through the Woods is no exception, and although it does house some interesting ideas, you would do well to understand that this game isn’t all that scary. The game is set within a forest on the western shores of Norway and tells the story of a mother searching for her missing, seemingly kidnapped son. What follows is a harrowing tale of daring, fright and at best, mediocre set pieces, put in place in an attempt to capture that aforementioned atmospheric vibe.
I say mediocre simply because Through the Woods is a wasted opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, this game has all the markings of a decent horror experience, but much like Don’t Knock Twice, it fails to truly connect the dots. Through the Woods doesn’t entirely put its eggs in one basket. There’s a fine line between realism, horror fantasy and Norse mythology, a line that this game has no problem dancing on. Players will witness some well detailed environments, with a range of enemies that stand in to produce some uneasy encounters. That, however, is about as tense as this game gets. Through the Woods is at its scariest when you’re trekking into the unknown, with disturbing beings and creepy noises surrounding your journey. Unfortunately, the game relies too heavily on this and never does much to evolve beyond it.
The story on the other hand, or at least that that’s the forefront focus point, proves to be quite interesting. You see, outside of collecting bits of text throughout the entirety of play (clocking in at just below three hours), developer Antagonist has aimed for what can only be described as a story of realization. It’s hard to go into too much detail without giving away any plot points, but what I will say is that the character of the mother, is one that’s selfish, deviant, intentionally unlikable and abrasive. However, the narrative arc does try to tease the player, or trick to be more specific, into seeing a hidden sense of redemption within, but due to how much of a [insert your most insulting phrase here] the mother is, it misses this beat entirely. Instead, by the time the credits roll, Through the Woods ultimately comes across as a story of preservation and recognition.
Some will love it, some will hate it. On that front, Through the Woods achieves everything that it set out to accomplish, and it’s quite intriguing I might add, despite how awful the mother is. I cant say that I’ve played a game in recent memory that had me disliking the main lead, yet captivated me enough to see the journey to its conclusion. Oddly enough, I couldn’t help but feel that if we’d have been given the role of the child, Through the Woods would have been a much scarier experience. One of the biggest flaws here sits with the voice acting, which isn’t terrible, but could have been much better. Horror games, as many of you will agree with, need a great cast of characters to instill the emotion and outlook of their respective roles, Through the Woods sadly doesn’t quite hit that mark well enough.
The actual gameplay sits more inline with the likes of Layers of Fear than Silent Hill. The game is more walking-simulator in place of combat or puzzle solving. This works really well when we take into account that the lore, the environments and the creepy enemy models makes up for most of the experience, but for those that prefer more weight to the gameplay, may feel left wanting for more. With its shortcomings to the side, Through the Woods is a journey worth taking, if for anything, due to it’s story and point of view. I reiterate, this isn’t a very scary game, though it certainly does well at making the player feel unnerved. Horror enthusiasts will not be blown away, but if you’re on the market for something short, interesting and often disturbing, this may well scratch that itch.
Through the Woods isn’t nearly as scary as it is suggested to be, however, it does provide a tense and uneasy atmosphere nevertheless. This game serves a short story of recognition and understanding responsibility, though its simplified gameplay and lack of depth will certainly leave players wanting for more. That being said, it’s both interesting and detailed enough to warrant a recommendation.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.