Through the Woods is a third-person Norwegian horror adventure video game developed by the indie studio Antagonist. Indie as hell, it begun life as a student project before transitioning to Kickstarter where it was full funded. Originally released on Steam and Windows in the latter half of 2016, it has now made its way to the Xbox One.
A Norwegian horror game that draws from Norse mythology and Norwegian folk tales, it sounds great. Unfortunately story aside, it’s not.
Players take on the roll of Karen, a widowed mother to her young son, Espen. They are staying at a remote cabin in the woods where we discover the pairs relationship isn’t too great. It seems as though Karen had a hard time connecting with him growing up and while she insists she loves him, it seems to be out of guilt more then anything else.
We learn all of this and more through Karen’s internal dialogue, a good idea because so much of the game is just walking around locations doing nothing. Without it, we really wouldn’t have much to keep us awake at all.
At the cabin Karen works late and Espen is bored while she sleeps all day. This sees him explore a dilapidated pier nearby, somewhere Karen forbade him to go. When she wakes, Espen is nowhere to be found so she goes to look for him. Arriving at the pier she sees her son being thrown into a boat by a mysterious man. She tries to follow the boat by swimming after it but gets lost in a sudden mist. When it clears, she finds the boat docked at a mysterious island and both Espen and the man gone.
Arriving on shore, she sets out to find her son but discovers this place is not normal.
Take the moon for example…it’s shattered. Or how about the trolls that smash through the thicket or maybe the murderous talking wolves? All of these enemies and more are taken from Norse mythology and Norwegian folk tales.
Karen can’t fight or attack. She holds a torch, can crouch to hide and can run. That’s your tools when it comes to dealing with enemies. Most of the time, it’s just about being quiet and sneaking by. Not much fun but in regards to certain sections is at least tense.
The island is a dead place. Ruined villages, destroyed shrines and anyone she does meet is insane or already dead. Through these locations and by reading documents, letters and more we get the history of the island and find out what the mysterious man wants with Espen.
Will Karen be able to save her son?
Let’s talk about the problems first. It is an extremely unpolished game, light on scares with a lack of immersion because of graphical faults and glitches. Yes, it’s low-budget but with a massive focus on story over everything, the issues within the game are really highlighted.
Karen feels like she is floating over the environment not making arduous climbs or struggling through thick bushes. She never really feels like she is there, almost as though she is a cutout that has been stuck to a painting.
The mechanic of hiding and sneaking past enemies is massively disappointing too. Sometimes it’s laughably easy, other times what the game instructs you to do doesn’t work resulting in numerous cheap deaths.
It’s not the ugliest of games and that a lot of it takes place at night helps hide bad textures and more, however frame-stuttering, and several console-freezes did little to improve the overall experience.
A shame because Through the Woods does have positives too. Its story does drive you forward and the collectibles that reveal more detail as well as tell macabre tales from folklore are interesting. The game doesn’t hold your hand allowing you to find your own path. Not too open but not completely linear either. The music and sound effects build atmosphere and heighten some of the more tension built moments and it controls well enough.
It can be finished in about 2-4 hours depending on how much exploration you do and it does wrap up in impressive style. It’s the kind of game that you can see the promise, it just didn’t have the money behind it to completely deliver on that.
Through the Woods