Darkwood is a lot stranger than I expected. I was drawn to it by the promise of no jump scares – I wondered whether a horror game really could resist the urge to suddenly surprise me, and if it couldn’t, how it could scare me. It also happened to be Halloween so I wanted to be scared, and Darkwood had just arrived on PS5, so the um, pumpkins aligned.
But now I feel misled. Not because Darkwood isn’t scary, or because it uses jump scares – it has surprised me a few times (maybe there’s no getting away from this in horror), though not enough to suggest it leans on this as a scare tactic. But because reducing Darkwood to a conversation about scares misses so much of what I think it’s about.
Darkwood is deep – surprisingly so. It’s surprising because the top-down, retro presentation – it’s quite like Hotline Miami but without the lurid colours – and the base-defence set-up make it feel quite simple. You’ve played this kind of game a million times before. Find wood to barricade windows. Find fuel to power a generator. Craft things. Keep the lights on, keep the enemies away at night.