Through the Woods has some problems and a lot of promise. It takes a unique approach to its character’s very personal story, and it sets the entire game against a Norse mythology background. The ideas can be great, but the poor visuals and uneven pacing keep Through the Woods from reaching its full potential.
In Through the Woods, you are a mother who takes her son out to a cabin in Norway. You are there to work, but he tagged along for some fun outdoors and time with his mom. Things are going fine until you notice he has boarded a boat and is headed into some mist with an old stranger.
Like most mothers, you run after them and jump into the frigid water, swimming after the disappearing boat. When the mist clears, you are on a strange island and chasing the legend of Old Erik. You are not in Norway’s version of Kansas anymore, Dorothea. (Google says it is a Nordic Dorothy, but let me know in the comments.) There are statues, writing, and homes built to a much earlier and rougher standard.
The game is scary and tense, and I cannot imagine anything scarier than seeing your child spirited away from you. Even with that obvious terror, you are not alone in the woods. All you have to protect yourself is a flashlight, so sneaking is a must.
There are mythological monsters who roam the woods with you. There are trolls, a huldra, draugs, and other unpleasant things that see you as an easy meal. There are even trophies associated with being killed by them. I learned that the hard way.
As you pursue your son, the mother’s internal monologue will periodically play. We hear thoughts and see memories, and some of them are incredibly personal and profound. It tells a mature story that was very different from what I expected. There is almost a confessional tone to some of them, and I could not wait to get to the next one.
This leads to my problem with the pacing in the game. The first half of the game is mostly you trampling around in the dark with your flashlight. There are only a few encounters with anything or anyone, and it is mostly a quiet hike.
The second half of the game is filled with story and creatures. There is a little breather between the bigger moments, and then you begin to build toward another attention-grabbing peak.
I remember thinking, “Why did the game wait so long to get good?”. These moments should have been shared or more should have been added to or removed from the slow first half to keep me engaged in the world. I am sure it was intentional, but I started to wonder why the developers called this a scary game at all. It was putting me to sleep.
- Developer: Antagonist
- Release Date: May 8th
- Price: $19.99, £15.99
That ended when I reached the huldra. This encounter was tense and scary, and it kept me looking back and forth, my flashlight jiggling as I frantically ran from a distorted human figure slinking in the dark. I died more than a few times in that area. It was great, and it was the second best encounter in the game.
The rest of the game is filled with a feeling of dread. In the second half of the game, I was wondering around with my flashlight searching for glowing eyes in the darkness. I wondered if I would meet my end at the claws of a creepy creature or sneaking around a troll looking for a slow meal. I could gradually see more indications that something wasn’t right.
That leads to my second big problem. The visuals are not great, and it’s uneven here too. I can look across a ravine, and the snow-covered mountain on the other side looks really good. The log right next to me looks very bad. The water looks chunky, and it will have an opaque silvery hue. Character faces look static and almost stuck onto the model.
There are technical problems with the visuals where a portion will disappear and a chunk of bright white is left before it pops back into view. This happened frequently, and especially near a window or break in a cave.
I am happy to say the sound was very good, and, to me, that’s more important. Everything from the sounds in the forest to the breathing as I ran kept me engaged with the world. The main character’s voice acting was solid as well.
The directional audio is also good. The huldra has a screech to let you know she is coming, and it was usually clear where I should be looking or where I should have looked.
I was a little disappointed that the music was so sparsely used. My guess is that it was a purposeful choice to make you feel lonely in the woods. Whenever it was used, it would signal a creature, a more emotional moment, or a reason to be afraid. It was nice.
The story is supplemented with different items you can find in the world. There are warnings, journals, and stories left by the people of the island. Although they were just quick bits of text, I looked for everything I could find for more information and mythology.
Through the Woods is a game that has some great moments that are overshadowed by visual and technical issues and pacing problems. There is a complex and personal story here, and, when it gets scary, it does a great job of keeping up the intensity. I only wish it could have been a little more polished.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using a PS4 Pro.