The demo for Through the Woods because it showcased the game’s taut atmosphere and horror elements very well. So how does the complete game hold up?
Welcome to the Jungle
Through the Woods is a 3rd person ‘horror-adventure’ game, similar to titles such as Kholat, Slenderman, and Layers of Fear. It was developed by Antagonist, and published by 1C Company.
In Through the Woods, you take the role of a single mother pursuing a mysterious man who has abducted your child, um, through some woods. Actually, it’s more of a mysterious island/place seemingly ripped out of time that happens to be heavily wooded. The man, known only as “Old Erik”, ferries your son away for presumably nefarious purposes.
I don’t want to spoil any of the story, but suffice to say the island is other-worldly. Through the Woods is heavily based on Norse mythology and folk lore, which you’ll uncover as you chase down Old Erik and evade the various creatures that haunt the island.
Fans of Norse mythology will definitely recognize the many pieces of it as you explore old, decayed ruins and uncover the story of the island and Old Erik himself.
Worth barking about
Through the Woods makes excellent use of the environment to create tension, and it does a good job of establishing a taut, mysterious atmosphere rife for (cautious) exploration.
For example, one note you find alludes to a dangerous sea creature, and of course you find this note when you’re traveling near the shore and nearby rivers. I frequently heard distinct splashing noises – like a large fish jumping – nearby or behind me, resulting a quick turn as I probed the darkness with the flashlight.
It was surprisingly effective at adding the exact sort of tension you want in a game like this. Through the Woods uses ambient sounds hint to paint pictures in your mind of what may be lurking behind its many deep, dark shadows.Sometimes the sounds are just there to scare you.
Sometimes, there really is something there. And you’d best run like hell.
And even though much of Through the Woods is pretty linear, there are a surprising number of places you can explore off the trails to investigate its sinister nooks and crannies. More importantly, you’ll want to explore them because the game does such a good job of intriguing you and beckoning you to explore– even when the proposition is scary.
Through the Woods would probably make a great VR experience if it was adapted to it.
Forest through the Trees
Stretched out to a (roughly) 2-3 hour game, Through the Woods holds up reasonably well, but its indie roots shine through—and not always in a good way.
For example, there are some ‘collectibles’ you can find in the game. Initially I thought these items were going to be used in some sort of adventure game puzzle-solving akin to the puzzles found in Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
And this could have been a great addition in a longer game, possibly with multiple endings where the items and collectibles influence progress and your overall outcome.
Unfortunately, in Through the Woods they serve no real purpose, and seem like an afterthought intended to add an element of re-playability to the game.
The writing and story for the game are good, if a bit uneven. Some of the dialog just doesn’t quite sound right, which could just be a minor byproduct of translation. Unfortunately, the uneven writing and poor voice acting (particularly for the main character and her son), dampen the gravity of the story and the investment in the characters.
The overall pacing is also a little uneven, although this doesn’t hurt the game too much. There are some stretches of the game that just feel like you’re wandering from Point A to Point B without any real plot or game play drivers. There’s a “puzzle” that really isn’t a puzzle and doesn’t seem in any way necessary to advance the story. The prologue is a bit too long.
Despite its foibles, I still think Through the Woods is a good overall experience if you like these kinds of games—and particularly if you enjoy Norse mythology. It would take a little polishing to make Through the Woods truly great, but I hope we see more games like this from the fine folks at Antagonist.