Through the Woods [official site] is a Norwegian folk tale-themed tale of child kidnap. It’s currently on Kickstarter but with a demo so I figured I’d give it a go. There are some mild spoilers for the demo after the jump so if you wanted to try it blind just go to the official site.
Alice has written about the mood of the game before and how the flashlight seemed to spoil the atmosphere, washing out the scenery as it did so in the trailer snippets. I’d say in practice the torch did a fair bit of that, turning it more into an experience I associate with bumbling round woodland in Slender, even though it’s not supposed to be a jump scare thing.
Harsh spotlighting focuses your view and it’s good for guiding the player’s attention – in this instance you’re also using it to track reflectors like you might get on a kid’s bike – but it also attracts unwanted attention from other creatures in the forest so you’re supposed to balance looking for these reflectors with groping round in the darkness.
I left the light on a lot of the time because the scenery seemed too dark to navigate at all without it, even with the sound design. That probably explains why I got eaten by a troll, to be honest. Thing is, once you’ve seen the scary thing in the dark there often doesn’t seem to be anywhere else to go in terms of instilling dread. It’s the same problem as with Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs – once one of the lurking nasties killed me all the fear which had been building up dissipated. Subsequent play wasn’t scary in the same way, I just treated the lurking beasty as an obstacle to navigate or utilise.
The death-by-troll also seemed to run counter to the other part of the game which was attracting me – that of a dynamic narrative. The game you are playing is what a woman named Karen Dahl is describing to someone investigating the disappearance of her son. At first you’re playing through what Karen is explaining as a kind of tutorial – follow the reflectors is the main message – as well as some setting the scene. As far as I understand it the dynamic then switches to you playing the game to influence her narration – your choices in the forest are then the story she recounts to the investigator.
Thing is, how does death-by-troll figure in that?
Karen: I hate that coat my ex gave our son but he seems to really like it, the implication being your lot should be on the look out for a little boy in a gross orange coat. Anyway, there I was, exploring some abandoned stone houses when a troll came and ate me.
Investigator: A troll ate you?
Karen: Yes. That’s right.
Investigator: Are you sure?
Karen: Quite sure.
Investigator: So how is it that you are sitting here telling me about it?
Karen: Fair point, I guess I must have been wrong about the troll. Shall I start again?
Underling: Boss, do you really think we should still be interviewing her? I mean, she’s claimed to be dead several times now and I’m thinking she’s not really the useful witness we first thought. Maybe we should be talking to other people?
Investigator: This is perfectly standard behaviour on a missing child case.
Underling: It’s just…
Investigator: I SAID PERFECTLY STANDARD BEHAVIOUR.
Obviously it’s a demo build rather than the finished product but it’s being used to give a flavour of the final game. What it gave me was an atmospheric horror project but one where the ability to die doesn’t seem to have been satisfactorily explained, and might well puncture any sense of dread created early on.