Through the Woods is a psychological horror game which focuses on the creepy, unknown nature of being alone in the woods at night, instead of an abundance of jump scares. Developed by Antagonist, a small indie studio in Oslo, Through the Woods is an exploration game where you play the role of a mother on the search for her child whilst aiming to avoid creatures from Norse folklore and mythology. Clocking in at around three hours of gameplay, the game isn’t that long yet it offers replayability in the form of its trophies. The locale is perfect for this type of game, placing us on the Western shore of Norway as we not only try and stay alive but also get a glimpse at the fragility of our protagonists family relations.
Through the Woods begins where you would expect, in a cabin deep within the woods. We are introduced to our protagonist and her son, Espen, who have come here as a ‘family getaway’ as the mother doesn’t seem to spend much time with her son these days due to work overshadowing him. However, whilst at the cabin, the mother is more focused on her work and once again neglects Epsen and would rather stay within the cabin and ignore everything around her. Due to this, we are given a glimpse at how Espen feels and how he is very quirky and adventurous – kind of the polar opposite of his mother – as we venture out and explore the surroundings of the cabin.
You’re most likely going to predict what happens next, Espen’s mother refuses to play, or even interact, with her son which ultimately results in him going on on his own whilst she is asleep. Upon awakening, you run out of the cabin and down to the docks only to see Espen in a boat rowing away by an unknown stranger. Instantly, you begin to follow them, even though this kind of contradicts what we have just been shown. Just before this happens, we are given a montage of life from the perspective of the mother – no father around to help with raising Espen and her declaring that she doesn’t pay attention as she doesn’t actually love her son. Which seems to not come into play when she risks her life trying to get Espen back.
Whilst looking for Espen, you stumble upon an old abandoned village which speaks of a man, Old Erik, who would come at night and take away naughty children. Is this whose responsible for Espen’s kidnapping? From here on, it’s going to get dark as you venture deep into the unknown with your torch in hand as you brave the Woods in search of your son. However, you’re not alone in this place as you’ll soon find out while being stalked by mythical beasts and uncovering dark truths about yourself and the land around you.
One of the key factors in a stealthy, action-adventure, horror game is that you have solid controls which work with you and not against you. Into the Woods controls worked perfectly in this regard. The game is rather simple in premise with the option to crouch, run, interact with items and use your torch. With that being said, not everything is perfect. The characters themselves feel a little ‘heavy’, which is fine, as it gives the game a more realistic feel and I would take a heavy character over a light and floaty one, but it does make the movement seem a little clunky – but not too much to get in the way.
Also, for the first half hour or so, the game is pretty much a walking simulator as you just walk around, interact with a few things and then walk to another area. Again, not a bad thing as the game is setting up the story and introducing us to the two least likeable characters I’ve ever seen, but it’s something to be aware of. Speaking of which, there are a lot of documents you can pick up and read throughout your adventure through the woods, each one providing more information about what’s happening and a glimpse at local folklore, all of which is very interesting and great to discover and read about.
However, it isn’t long until you are into the meat of the game. The sun goes down, it’s pitch black, all you have is your torch for company and your inner monologue to converse with yourself. Then suddenly, without warning, the screen begins to shake and you hear a loud bang which continues about a second apart. You turn off your light, crouch down and walk slowly out of a cave and hide near a bush as you slowly pan your camera around. You see a shadow of something big go past as it continues to stomp and roar. That’s right, there’s only a massive Troll stalking you! The whole ‘turn off your torch and crouch’ defensive mechanic seems to work fine as you evade its dirty hands!
Step into the light:
After walking through the dead of night for a while, areas begin to get a lot brighter as the game swaps from the woods to caves, villages, and mountains as you utilise the sneak mechanic a lot more. Once the areas light up you begin to see the detail in the environments more. Everything looks great, it’s really colourful (when it’s not dark) and the overall quality for an indie game is pretty good. Throughout the game, you will also see various landmarks such as Gothic structures, illuminating way-stones, and other such Norse-aesthetic objects. These all look great upon discovering them and they help to emphasise the overall immersion the developers are going for, even if they are sometimes placed in seemingly random locations.
One thing I would have liked more within the main campaign was more integration with the folklore and the story we were experiencing. The game tried to link the two together but at times it felt like they were 100 miles apart and simply inserted for the sake of pushing the narrative that the game is about the folklore yet also about the mother’s history. Other than that though, it was an enjoyable, if short, campaign which focused more on the ‘creepy factor’ than resorting to jump scares and cheap horror clichés.
Graphically, I really enjoyed the way Through the Woods looks. I played it on the PS4 Pro and I’m unsure if that comes with any advantages over the base PS4, but either way, I wasn’t disappointed. During the night sequences, the lighting, bloom and shadows all looked great as they cast onto various environmental objects and lit up the dark areas. Once you hit the lighter areas, the colours pop and the whole game looks and feel more detailed as you can now fully appreciate the amount of effort and work which went into designing the environments. Later on in the game, the red blood also helps contrast the darker pallets with a bright, shiny one which really stands out as you’re exploring the various locations.
I did mention earlier that the character models wasn’t the greatest – the animations in certain situations isn’t great if I’m being honest. Even during the opening 30 minutes of cutscenes and interactions with your son, the animation leaves a lot to be desired – however, outside of the immersion within the cutscenes, everything else plays out fine for an indie title.
Sound-wise, we have a mixed bag. On one hand, the overall sound effects within Through the Woods is awesome. From the ambient sounds of the wildlife to the dynamic soundtrack which plays at various moments, it all comes together perfectly and makes a creepy game even more creepy and suspenseful! Even small things like having the mother breath heavily from too much running and the ability to hear hazards in the distance, it was great – especially with headphones on. However, on the other hand, we have the voice acting. Now, I know it’s hard sometimes for a foreign studio to hire decent English speaking voice actors if that isn’t their native language, and I can forgive them for that, but the acting sounded very wooden.
This followed throughout with the interactions between various characters and your inner monologue – However, the voice acting does seem to get a bit better towards the end. It felt like the actors had started to understand their characters motivations and predicaments the further into the game they got. It’s just a shame they didn’t go back and re-record the earlier clips.
I don’t hate Through the Woods, I actually enjoyed my time with it and I’ve recommended it to quite a few people who like this genre of game. Sure, it had its issues with the cutscenes, voices, pacing and overall identity – but as a stealth-based psychological horror game based around old Norse folklore, I felt like it did a decent job. I’m glad the developers brought it to the PS4 and I hope they continue to make more games along a similar vein as it’s clear they have a lot of passion and drive in what they do. Maybe next time push for a longer playtime and integrate things a little better?
Through the Woods is a decent indie game built around Norse folklore/mythology that has been slightly integrated within the story of a mother and her estranged son. Throughout your journey to recover your child, you will encounter creatures which you must stealthily bypass and uncover things about yourself and the woods which may be a little uncomfortable for some people. The two main downsides to the game lie within its integration of the two stories and the length. With more time, we would have had more development on the characters and gave me a reason to care about them, with more integration then we could have seen how the random occurrences linked to the mother. Overall though, if you’re a fan of the horror genre or like suspenseful games, then give Through the Woods a chance as you’ll probably enjoy it.
Through the Woods£15.99
- Interesting story and setting for the game
- More psychological than jump-scare
- Great sound effects and ambient soundtrack
- Great lighting and visual effects
- Has some creepy moments that make you jump because they're creepy and not because they jump out.
- Cut-scenes are a little wooden and low quality
- The voice acting starts off pretty poor but eventually gets better (English)
- It's not very long, at around three hours
- Doesn't do a great job implementing the Norse mythology into the overall story