by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
Into The Woods
I love horror games. I don’t recall if I’ve mentioned that before, but a mere look back through my repertoire will show that I’m often called upon to review games touted as scary. The good, the bad, and the ugly among them. When Through The Woods dropped into my lap, just in time for Halloween, I was excited. Described as a mother and son tale of rescue in a land painted by Norse mythology, I was intrigued. On paper, and in screenshots, it looks like a solid idea. Sadly, it was not meant to be.
To be technical, Through The Woods is listed as an Indie Adventure title. The entire marketing however, totes the game as a third person horror title. The developers even go as far as to claim it to be “A frightening journey accompanied by beautiful and grim sound design.” From a description like that, I expect at least a few jump scares for my time and if not that, a near constant air of tension. I was given neither. Through The Woods simply isn’t scary, the only time I jumped at all was because of my own carelessness which lead me headlong into an otherwise avoidable denizen of the woods.
It’s really disappointing considering it has the makings of a scary game all laid out, plain as day, and it just never makes good use of them. First let’s take a look at the plot. Our two main characters, Espen and his Mother (even listed as Mother in the credits) are on a trip away from the bustling life of the city to take a break away from it all. Espen is there to try to have fun, and Mother is there for work. She warns him of but one thing, stay away from the old pier. Her reasoning for it was that it was in such a state of disrepair, but after a stranger lures her son away that’s when the pieces should start falling into place.
Unfortunately, they never come even close to it. There are a variety of monsters, almost all of which are easily avoided by sneaking or in some ways just abusing their script timing. Or, by using the very well overpowered flashlight. The setting itself is a rather good looking Norse treat, between villages and the woods between them. The sounds, very well produced as far as ambiance goes (I wish the same could be said for the voice acting). Monster character models are interesting to look at, and of a very high quality, while the character on your screen the most is left with basic animations and the most lifeless stare that she could be considered the walking dead.
It really comes across as a mixed bag. Some things had me saying, “Hey, that’s pretty good!” While others just had me trying to wrap my head around what exactly happened. The overall package can leave one bored, if not for all the interesting tidbits you’ll be reading along the way. But the biggest flaw with Through The Woods isn’t the misleading marketing, or the mixed sum of its parts. The biggest flaw, is embodied in the protagonist herself.
Mother, I Don’t Wanna Walk Your Way
I’ve had my issues with some protagonists in gaming before. We had the whiny lead of Tidus in Final Fantasy X, we had the college-fratboy-turned-commando Jason Brody in Far Cry 3, and while those are two that stand out to me I know we can all name off protagonists that we found to be detrimental to a game over the years. But none of them, and I do mean -none- of them, come close to being as hateable of a character as Mother.
From the beginning, there are hints at Mother being a very self-serving character. She treats Espen to be an inconvenience, and not a son. What few moments they have of any meaningful bonding are very short lived, and later erased as you learn more and more about her and about the past of their family. In short, she’s an awful woman. I won’t spoil anything here, but the things she puts others through for her own self-preservation and benefits is exactly what I hate about humanity. The way she’s written, it almost feels like the developers were aiming for a redemption story but it just never happens.
There are some things, that cannot be redeemed. My boredom with the game, turned to disgust with the character and I kept pushing onward just hoping that her ending was to be a bad one. Everyone’s different, perhaps there will be some who like Mother. But in my opinion, once you make a character as self-serving as her, you make the player start cheering against them. You don’t want them to succeed. They end up switching places and become the ‘bad guy’ in the eyes of the player.
Out Of The Woods
With 2.5 hours under the belt, I can say the ending was sudden, surprising , and not fulfilling by any means. It did not strike a chord that rang in success or failure. In fact, thanks to the stiff animation of the scene, I actually blurted out a laugh.
The setting, the lore behind it, they’re ultimately squandered as far as horror goes, or even as adventure. What Through The Woods ultimately boils down to, is a couple hour walking simulator with an interesting narrative trying to be played out by the most unlikeable character I’ve ever seen in a game.
Interesting setting and narrative, well done audio, monster character models are detailed and interesting.
Not scary, easily avoidable monsters, worst protagonist I’ve ever had the displeasure of playing, too short.