It’s getting dark. You’re ages away from your base, low on ammo, and it’s just started to rain when you find a house to hide in while you catch your breath. In another room, a radio plays, and a rhythmic banging is accompanied by a woman’s voice, cracked with disuse and empty of any reason. Will she stay there forever, stuck in her cycle, or will you be forced to put what was once her out of its misery, like all the others?
Welcome to The Woods
Darkwood is a top-down survival horror game, released in 2017 by Acid Wizard Studio after three years of beta testing. It’s available on Steam and, surprisingly, the Nintendo eShop. The game has sky-high ratings across the board, with raving reviews from players that match the weirdly high download numbers it’s seen in recent months.
In Darkwood, you play as a lone survivor in an empty world known as The Woods. There seems to have been some kind of apocalypse, although what exactly that was is never explained. All that you know is that you are on your own to survive, but you are not alone.
Overtaken by trees, surrounded by darkness, and suffused with desperation, everyone you meet is either a threat or insane, sometimes both. You gather supplies, fortify your base, and improve your skills with the hope of surviving the night and somehow, one day, making it out of The Woods alive.
It’s easy to compare this game with other atmospheric horror titles. The creeping fear of the dark and its senseless inhabitants are reminiscent of the Outlast series, while the sense of impending panic and feeling of being trapped taps into the fears popularized in the genre recently in the Five Nights at Freddy’s series.
What sets Darkwood apart, though, is its slow, steady pace and a building sense of dread. Every achievement is understated and seems to make no immediate difference, and progress through the storyline is realistic in that you come across it organically, with only a slight build in the music to tip you off that something is here, something is wrong. Darkwood doesn’t have a “good” or “bad” ending; you either live or you die, and it’s as simple as that.
It’s been lauded for its difficult, precise controls, which make it appealing to more skilled gamers looking for a challenge to accompany a good story. With a limited scope of view, pared down to just what you can see by the light of your torch, and a never-ending soundtrack of eerie music and noises in the woods, Darkwood has perfected the art of disturbing its players without relying on jump scares. That’s not to say the scares aren’t there, as there are enough of those to keep you on the edge of your seat, but their relative paucity is another feature that sets the game apart from its competitors.
The Popularity of Darkwood
For these reasons and many more, Darkwood has gained wild popularity with the YouTube gaming scene recently. Some of the top videos in its Explore tag have more than 1.2 million views each, with new, sometimes hour-long episodes coming from some of the platform’s biggest names almost every day. Not only that, but its overall player numbers have been through the roof; there has been an average of 245 players a day for the past month, with a peak of more than 650 concurrent players in one day.
Though its popularity has waned again recently with the passing of the fad torch to more widely appealing games like Among Us and Fall Guys, it continues to enjoy a place of popularity as one of the stand-out games of the year.
It seems that a game about a plague that forces people to barricade themselves in and wait out the long night is resonating just a little too hard right now.
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