Through The Woods – Preview

Title   Through the Woods
Developer  Antagonist
Publisher  Antagonist
Platform  PC
Genre  Horror
Release Date  TBA
Official Site

Ask anyone around GamingLives Headquarters and they’ll tell you that I’ll play almost any genre, with no quibbles, except horror. Horror is where I draw the line because, for want of a better expression, I’m just a big girl’s blouse when it comes to having the crap scared out of me. The fact that every six months or so I find myself playing a horror game of my own volition is nothing short of moronic, but usually they have some sort of hook that sinks its pointy end deep into my flesh, poisoning my psyche into believing that, this time, it will be different; this time I’ll have a backbone. The ‘hook’ in this case was something as sweet and innocent as it is disarming – how far would a mother go to protect her son? As a thirty year old male with no children I could only speculate on such things but that didn’t stop me from enjoying my short demo of developer Antagonist’s first title, Through The Woods.

Through The Woods is a third-person psychological horror, set in a forest on a western shore of Norway. The team themselves are based in Oslo and want to retell their childhood experiences of exploring the forests as they saw them when they were the small innocent people – if their childhood experiences were anything like what I experienced in the demo, however, I’m surprised they’re not all undergoing serious psychological therapy.

The demo starts with you controlling the mother of the missing boy. She believes he’s been snatched by something of an old folk story come to life, which you start to take very seriously when you’re wandering around in the forest in the middle of the night. The story is conveyed via a conversation between the mother and a man who could be anything from a police officer to a doctor – it’s not clear who she is speaking to, but she’s retelling the story to someone and it makes for a very effective way to drive the narrative forward. I noticed on a couple of occasions that their conversation would change depending on my actions, so when I tried to pick up something but couldn’t, the man asked why I hadn’t picked it up and my character answered – very clever stuff.

The alpha demo I played was a very short one but it showcased the general movement of my character, who was able to sprint at a decent pace and carried a flashlight. The light was my own aid in the darkness of the forest and evoked strong memories of Alan Wake, from the character movement, to the flashlight use, to the setting. Everything was much less American, but comparisons to Wake’s adventures can be made nonetheless (which isn’t a bad thing, it was an excellent game). At first, moving through the forest caused some cooing at the graphics and sound, but the fear quickly set in when I realised I had all the defensive qualities of a bar of dairy milk at the centre of the sun – this doesn’t appear to be game about kicking ass and taking names (which horror games never really are) but, generally speaking, I need extra underwear when the tension is ramped up and I’m left with a Maglite for company.

The tension did ramp up quickly, too – I set out following reflectors left by my son – easily found with my torch – which allowed me to trace a path to an abandoned village. This seemed a little redundant as there was clearly a different coloured path to follow on the ground, but I appreciate that the whole point of the exercise isn’t to get the player lost and have them curse the lack signposting. The abandoned village provided new sounds and sights, locked doors to try and force and a general sense of unease, given the place looked well lived in but was generally deserted.

I continued moving forward only to find my ears filled with an ear-piercing scream of something that didn’t sound like it wanted to give me a cuddle. I began to ran towards a series of reflectors, finding myself chased by a huge troll-like creature. With no option but to flee I kept running and watched as it slowly began to gain on me, given the bigger strides it was taking. Heart pounding and with literally no idea where I was going I just kept running as fast as I could, finally entering a small cave, whereby the entrance sealed behind me. Shortly after, I found an opening that took me through to an area filled with hundreds of abandoned children’s toys, which bought the demo to a close.

I’d probably be less impressed with Through The Woods if it wasn’t for the sound – there is some stellar audio work going on here. The dialogue between the mother and the man is clear, well-spoken and the right tempo, given what is going on. And since this is what is driving the narrative, getting it right is key – I’ve seen laughable attempts at this sort of concept before, and poor delivery has made the story seem pointless, the whole basis for your interaction ruined because why should you care if the characters don’t? Further plaudits should be given to the sound with regards to your character who seems to pant, clear her throat and generally seem incredibly human with nothing more than common passive noises. This would mean nothing in most games but her inconsistent noises punctuate the tension, highlighting just how quiet things are in the world you’re inhabiting. It’s very subtle and very clever. Graphically the game looks good but I’m expecting more polish from the finished product – I want moonlit strolls through the forest of mystery and some more definition to the character models, which did look a little rough around the edges.

Don’t let my concerns at the end put you off though – Through The Woods looks to be a very fine game in the making. The story is as heart-warming as it is alarming and Antagonist have nailed the tension required for a horror game, but I’m basing my thoughts on a mere sliver of gameplay, and more of the finished product will need to be seen prior to making any solid recommendations. If they can keep this level of quality up for a full game, though, it’s going to be a trip worth taking.

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