Preview: DarkWood Early Access

Picture the scene: you’ve woken on the floor of a strange house, the events of the previous night a confusion of darkness, violence and unknowable horrors. Or was it a nightmare? You had been imprisoned in another house elsewhere, but by whom? Escaping the room by force, darkness surrounding you as the generator died, you were attacked. Then…something shrieked into the night.

And now, here you are on the floor of another strange house, being roused from unconsciousness by a hooded figure with a wolf’s face.


Maybe it wasn’t a nightmare.


This is just how Darkwood begins.

Created by Polish developer Acid Wizard Studio, Darkwood was finally released via Steam Early Access on 24th July, after a successful Indiegogo campaign last year. As with any Early Access games, there are bugs and glitches, and the current alpha version only offers the first chapter so far, but the randomly generated nature of the world means there is still plenty of replay value in what is currently available.

Using the popular Unity engine, Darkwood’s 2D visuals already look polished and full of detail even on my ageing laptop, which makes it all the more horrific when delving into its atmospheric world. Moving freely with the usual WASD keys, and using the mouse cursor to interact with the environment and look around. The game simulates “line of sight” by making anything outside your cone of vision invisible, so looking over your shoulder soon becomes essential.

Time and item management are also essential as you explore the forest. You only have a small amount of daylight each day to scavenge for supplies – hitting the Tab key opens your inventory and a crafting menu, in which you can use the materials you find to create makeshift weapons and bandages, as well as other helpful items – before heading home to prepare yourself for the horrors that befall you at night.

Finding wood and nails will allow you to barricade windows and doors, even rebuild broken doors. Barricades won’t last forever though, and you’ll soon find yourself having to make the decision whether to fight or flee. Either option will leave you fighting for survival in the unforgiving darkness.

On my first night in the game, I had only just started looking into securing my home when the creaking of opening doors froze me in my tracks. Without any real light (when it gets dark, you can only see a few feet in front of you) I didn’t even see the first attack, only the red flash on-screen and the sickening noises of my assailant spurred me into panicked action. Even now, I only recall some freakish appendage lashing out at me through the blackness.


Even armed with an axe, death inevitably found me.


This may seem like a harsh lesson (and it certainly would have been if I hadn’t turned Permadeath off, which is definitely the recommended route for new players) but, as my battered character woke on day two in a pool of blood, it helped me realise the importance of effectively managing my time during the day.

The second day saw me progress the story by following Wolf’s instructions to seek the Chicken Lady, I managed to find bear traps and barricading supplies, and even had time to harvest some mushrooms to cook up at home, which gains you new abilities such as increasing your inventory space.

That second night, I waited (well, I cowered) in a corner for daylight, listening to the horrible sounds outside. I jumped as something hammered against the window beside me, the barricade weakening under the barrage of attacks before eventually breaking.


The monster soon killed me, but this time I lasted much longer.


The third night was the one. I survived. Nothing broke into my home, the sound only telling me that something lurked outside. The barking of a wild dog was cut to a whimper, silence falling over the gloomy half-light of the breaking dawn.

But don’t think that daylight will save you. Wandering through the woods during the day, you can still encounter wild animals and worse, and you will die just as quickly as at night if you aren’t careful. Wandering blindly into a cluster of mushrooms will poison you, leaving your health draining, your vision narrowing and your speed decreasing. Add a wild dog to that mix and you’ll be dead in seconds.


Getting lost is another problem, too. Your map only shows the general placement of known places but not your current location, that’s something you will have to judge for yourself. Mindlessly running about the place is another recipe for certain death, especially if you find yourself outdoors when night falls.

Sound is also key to helping your continued fight to keep drawing breath. Headphones are recommended for the best Darkwood experience, with the volume cranked up to really get the best out of the atmosphere. Twigs crack and floorboards creak underfoot, the wind rustles leaves and rain lashes at the roof, thunder crashes and will mask the sounds of monsters in the dark.

I liken it to that powerhouse of survival horror games: Silent Hill 2. The sound design is equally stunning, with direction that helps build tension, knowing that silence can be more effective than loud noises to create scares.

Darkwood may only offer the opening chapter at this early stage, and its alpha state may include bugs, but Acid Wizard Studio has listened to players and been quick to fix many problems already. Things like disappearing buildings, frozen animations and key binding issues have all been patched out by alpha 1.2, less than a week after release.

Unfortunately each new update will likely wipe saved games, but the developer is up front about that from the start. And as the game forces you to learn with each playthrough, you will find yourself progressing much more quickly every time you play.

The survival horror genre has been flagging since the Silent Hill series fell into decline, seemingly split into separate “survival” and “horror” genres.

Horror has become tired, using the same old mechanics of removing all forms of defence and relying on helplessness to create easy scares.

Survival games often just recycle the use of the same old tricks, forcing players to eat and sleep in order to stay alive. I can do that in real life, it’s not that exciting. But they have at least given players more power of creation with their crafting mechanics, something Darkwood relies upon.

By bringing crafting and horror together, giving you the chance to fend off monsters with traps and home made weaponry, Acid Wizard Studio is helping to return survival horror to its former glory. Atmosphere is key, cheap scares don’t even factor into this game. Not once have I grown bored of standing in one spot, waiting for the night to end, it’s always tense.

When you die in Darkwood (and you will) it will be because you were not prepared, not because you couldn’t hide in a closet fast enough.


Overall, it may sound like a punishing game, but Darkwood rewards careful exploration with supplies and building materials, or perhaps finding a brand new location that holds secrets. It rewards bravery with story progression, pushing past those fears in order to find out what’s in that pig shed. It rewards patience with survival.


And Darkwood will reward your purchase with an experience you’ll not soon forget.

Probably because of the nightmares it’ll give you.

Jim Smale

Gaming since the Atari 2600, I enjoy the weirdness in games counting Densha De Go and RC De Go as my favourite titles of all time. I prefer gaming of old where buying games from a shop was a thing, Being social in person was a thing. Join me as I attempt to adapt to this new digital age!