Through the Woods is a third-person Norse horror adventure set in a forest on the western shores of Norway that tells the story of a mother and her missing son.
Through the Woods is a walking simulator at heart. The game does have a few fleeting moments of stealth gameplay but these are so few and far between that they become more of a nuisance that slows you down rather than an enjoyable aspect of the gameplay. The majority of my time was spent holding down the forward button. I know the game is called “Through the Woods”, but I did expect a little more from my experience. The enemies you do encounter are large troll-type creatures; they are meant to be scary beings that kill you if you get caught, however they are extremely easy to avoid and most of the time you can just outrun them with ease. If you manage to find a rocky bit of terrain, they just point-blank refuse to climb up to get you, which really detracts from the overall immersion.
Even though you are supposed to be lost in a woods and trying to find your kidnapped son, the game’s lack of direction at times can be offputting. You could be running around in circles without really knowing where you are due to the environment looking the same everywhere. This could be a deliberate aspect of the gameplay, but since the game touts itself as being a very story-driven experience, I would like to have seen maybe a little more aid - in the form of subtle hints, maybe - that at least let the player know they are heading in the right direction.
Through the Woods is definitely a very impressive-looking game. The lush Nordic environments are some of the best you’ll see in a game. The lighting and shadows really add to the creepy feeling of being deep in the forest, and enhances the horror side of the game very well. The game is particularly impressive during nighttime as the lighting really shows its full prowess. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the character models. Something about all of the human characters in the game just seems off. When looking into their eyes they just seem dead and motionless and that is extremely off-putting. Even the animations of characters is way off: one moment that made this very clear is when the mother is opening a door - the door opened but it was quite clear her hand was nowhere near it. This again ruins the immersive experience for me.
The game certainly has an interesting story premise; however, this is not portrayed very well at all. The first point that really detracts from the story are the characters. A mother who doesn’t love her son is a very rare thing to see, and whilst it could have made for an interesting story point, it felt very poorly portrayed. This was probably down to the character models and animation, but even so still felt poorly executed. This completely distances the player from the story. When it’s supposed to be a horror experience you don’t want to push the player away; you need them to be as immersed in the game as possible. When you consider how games like Amnesia and Outlast manage to captivate the player in their more “made up world”, this lack of immersion in Through the Woods felt very strange to me and I lost all interest in the story because of it.
Along with the impressive graphics, Through the Woods also has a very nicely put-together soundtrack and sound effects. It is clear that the development team have the technical know-how to put together a very high-production-value game. The ominous music in the creepy parts of the game really kept me on edge at all times. The sound effects sometimes erred more on the jump-scare side of things but I could still appreciate them nonetheless. Sad to say the voice acting is very poorly executed. The mother’s voice lacks emotion at all times. Try to imagine your emotional state if your son had just been kidnapped: you’d probably be angry and upset right? None of this shows in the voice, and again it was just another aspect that threw me for a loop. The son’s acting is equally unbelievably but in the opposite manner. He is way over-the-top with all of his lines and it comes across as a little cringy at times. I’ve never seen someone so annoyed at another person for taking a nap!
Through the Woods does offer an opportunity for the player to find collectibles and extra snippets of lore throughout the game, but with the way the story was, I had no incentive to go out there and find them. I’d much rather just continue onwards with the main plot. The game only took me a little over two hours to complete. For me that was more than enough time for me to get the whole experience of Through the Woods, but I think that those who enjoy the walking simulator genre more than I will definitely feel like this game is too short. Maybe if there were a couple more hours’ worth of gameplay that fleshed out a little more backstory as to why the mother is the way she is, then I would have enjoyed my time with this title more than I have. As it is, the game also offers zero reasons for a second playthrough, the completely linear and boxed-in story offers no reason for anyone to jump in a second time.
With the gorgeous environments come a variety of technical problems, sadly. Even on my rig, with its SLI 980 setup, I could not get a stable 60 frames per second on either of the preset graphics settings. Initially I thought maybe it was a poor SLI port, but the framerate deteriorated even further when playing it on a single card. One thing which may help the issue is including some proper graphical settings. The game only offers presets in the form of “Low” “Medium” “High” and “Best”. But what do these settings actually turn on/off? There’s no explanation. Surely on a PC game in this day and age we need to have more options available than just what the developer thinks should be preset? The game’s recommended hardware is a 980? Really? Not even the recent AAA games have 980s as their recommended card. This is quite clearly an obvious case of a poorly-optimized game.
Through the Woods offers some really strong points in the form of impressive graphical fidelity of the environments, as well as on-point sound effects and soundtrack, but the rest of the game severely pulls it down to a less-than-mediocre level. I may not have been the audience this game was catered for, but in the past I have enjoyed walking simulators such as Firewatch, Stanley Parable and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Through the Woods does not deserve to be in the same category.
Through the Woods is not worth even the modest price tag of less than $7, not even if you are a fan of walking simulators will you get anything out of this.