Through the Woods Preview

That sound was just snapping twigs underfoot, right?

Microsoft's Xbox Indie event at PAX offered a number of opportunities to see games the console maker and publisher is excited to show for its indie platform. Through the Woods is a walking simulator/horror game based on Norwegian folklore in which a young mother searches for her son who has been abducted by a creature, which you track in a forest at night.

The path you need to take reveals itself progressively, as your son leaves fir tree-shaped reflectors hanging on branches that show the way from a distance with your flashlight. Through the Woods is careful with its scares and in general does more with implied horror than jump scares. Approach a door that you need to enter and trying to open it may reveal it's locked, but after stepping away you may hear someone slamming against the other side, only to have it open moments later. A monster may chase you, but you never get more than a vague impression of what it looks like in the haze of night, which fuels your imagination of what's out there.

While Through the Woods is visually impressive on a baseline level, crafting the fidelity that walking simulators are generally known for, it's the audio where it really shines and is one of those games that must be played with headphones. The far-off cries and howls of monsters or wolves as you reach an objective subtly tell you you're on the right (and certainly dangerous) path. More disturbing is that while trying to stealthily make your way through the woods, you hear every twig or branch break under-foot. 

I mentioned to the development team from Antagonist that the game reminded me of P.T., something they said was an influence (Gone Home was one too). Perhaps more than either of these is the influence of smaller indie horror titles like Slender, where you desperately look for clues while knowing that the creepy pasta monsters may only be seconds away. In all cases, there's a "less is more" attitude towards horror here, with no way to kill or attack any monster: simply the ability to move forward, run, and hide. 

The demo for Through the Woods ends shortly after encountering the monster's lair, where you find yourself surrounded by the keepsakes of other children it's taken, finally finding your son's tiny jacket. You hear the protagonist telling someone in a later interview, as if the gameplay itself is a memory being recounted, the horror thick in her voice as a sense of hopelessness washes over the scene that hopefully the rest of the horror game will dispel. 

Through the Woods will release on PC in early 2016.

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