There are plenty of horror games available, but few manage to put you on the edge of your seat.
Recently released on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 after being available on PC for nearly two years, however, Through the Woods does just that. It gets under your skin, unsettles you, and then puts you face-to-face with a troll. And that's just in the first hour or so.
Drawing on Norse mythology and Norwegian folklore, Through the Woods places you in the shoes of a mother looking for her missing son. Last seen on a boat with a stranger, she desperately explores a picturesque wilderness in the hope of finding him. With darkness prevailing, her struggle becomes ever more trying.
Never judge a book by its cover
I've been playing the Xbox One version of Through the Woods. Honestly, it didn't make a great first impression on me. Graphically it's pretty uninspiring, with poor character models and animation. The voice acting, while quite decent, often sounds poor in quality too. It's a design decision I believe; the mother's voice is suitably anguished as you explore, but faint and wispy when offering narration.
My perseverance with Through the Woods paid off, however. Within 20-30 minutes of playing it, its less than stellar presentation wasn't something I was too bothered about. Instead, I was immersed in its world and held captive by the events that were unfolding. In daylight, its dense environments were inviting yet foreboding. But when the sun set and I was plunged into darkness, everything felt more perilous and hostile.
The story slowly unfolds as you find notes left in derelict cabins, and happening upon reflectors gives you hope that your son is still alive. He used to collect reflectors, you see. And as you travel from one place to another, you'll encounter creatures that lurk in the dark. Whether you simply run or try to sneak by is up to you, but you'll not be doing any fighting.
Huh, what was that noise?
While the voice acting varies in quality, Through the Woods' sound design is otherwise impeccable. The use of ambient sound is fantastic, making you feel like you really are lost in a rural wilderness. And the first time you hear a grotesque noise in the distance you'll be equally intrigued and freaked out. Eager to find out what created it, but also worried that it might be something you don't want to come face to face with.
Unfortunately, the Xbox One version of the game has crashed on me a fair few times, but I've never lost too much progress. And I can't offer any guidance as to whether or not the PlayStation 4 or PC versions are more stable. In any case though, if you're a horror fan looking for a game that genuinely gets under your skin, Through the Woods is definitely worth a try. It's £15.99/$19.99 on all formats, so it won't even break the bank.