Creating a horror game out of folklores of one's country of origin can be both rewarding and educational to its players. As there are many ways to haunt people, it can lead to unique ideas and concepts that the main realm of Western developers haven't yet touched. It's why a game like Antagonist's Through the Woods has left me with a good enough satisfaction after playing through it, despite some of its glaring issues.
Through the Woods has you take control of Karen, a single mother who lives in a cabin with her son Espen. Due to her work, she doesn't take as much time to be a strong parental figure to her son, leading her to sleep in days while Espen feels neglected. When waking up one morning, Karen finds her son being taken on a boat, forcing her to swim towards a new land filled with Norse monsters and creatures. As time runs down to save her son, Karen realizes that she'll have to confront both external and internal demons before the sun rises once more.
Taking a gameplay route similar to that of Outlast or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Through the Woods will have you traversing through dark forests in search of clues and items that will bring Karen back to Espen. Along the way, you'll find out why her son was taken, leading up to run-ins with the strange locals who speak of sacrifices and grim prophecies. It's when the monsters of mythology slowly emerge when the real heart-stopping moments occur.
What this game gets done right is its atmosphere. Practically throughout my play-through, I felt my heart jump through my rib cage more times than I could count. The darkness of the forest and the feeling of dread as my controller shook with each giant troll's footsteps kept me at a state of urgency all during my time playing this game. Even when you actual see the monsters on-screen, the sight of them chasing down a concerned mother can get freaky as hell!
Of course, like most of the recent survival horror games, Karen is armed only with a flashlight. There's no way to defend yourself, nor are there more than one chance to get away. If you get caught, you're dead. All you can do is light the way somewhat better so as to see the paths you're supposed to take. Be thankful there isn't a battery limit like many of these other titles; otherwise, you would be greeted with death more than you already will.
As you progress, you'll have the chance to learn about Karen and Espen. The revelations that will unfold will make you question the actions of this distraught mother, to the point where she slowly becomes quite the unlikable character. It is when some of the major bombshells are dropped when you start to wonder which fate would've been better for the captured son, all the way down to the game's final minutes. One moral compass will have a hard time with the shocking truths of the mother and son, this reviewer can tell you!
Sadly, while the gameplay mechanics and story are pretty good, it's the technical aspect that keeps Through the Woods from being a completely memorable experience. From how stiff the characters seem to move to its last-gen visuals, Antagonist's game isn't quite the beauty that the Scandinavian nations are known to present to the world. (However, the sights of the trolls and other Norwegian monsters will leave a sufficient chill down one's spine.) It also doesn't help that the forests are riddled with bugs, some of which can cause Karen to be trapped in an area that'll force you to restart from a previous checkpoint.
One of the other flaws of this game is its English dub, which comes off rather wooden for what occurs in the game. With that being said, I highly suggest switching the audio to the original Norwegian, as the voice actors there are filled with the emotional punch that the English one was acting. Also on-par is Dan Wakefield's nerve-shattering score, which takes a minimalistic approach with a heavy string emphasis that harkens to the soundtrack works of Nick Cave & Warren Ellis. It's the right kind of sound that adds to the creepiness factor that the tone of the game delivers so nicely.
- Creates a haunting atmosphere
- Legit scary in some areas
- Strong Norwegian voice acting...
- ...but a weak English dub
- Stiff character movement
- Buggy spots
What Through the Woods gets right makes it worth traversing through its mysterious forest. Although it could've used a better coat of paint or a better debugger, the overall experience this game delivers is quite satisfying in the very least. Needless to say, this is one horror journey best played with the lights on, even if that'll reveal some of its visual flaws.
Promotional consideration provided by Daniel Matena of 1C Publishing EU. Reviewed on the Xbox One.