It's Ragnarök and everyone's invited.
Through the Woods by developer Antagonist is a third-person horror game based on Norse mythology. We're talking about a game that includes giant trolls, the wolf brothers of Sköll and Hati, Fenrir, Hel, and more from Norse mythology that most people probably aren't too familiar with. I know I wasn't too familiar with most of it prior to playing this game, but thankfully a number of encounters, collectibles, and letters helped to explain this mythology while furthering the story.

The core story focuses on a mother trying to find her kidnapped son. Not a day after arriving at a secluded lakeside cabin, a bearded man arrives by boat and quietly takes your son before your eyes. This sets in motion a spooky adventure that finds you tracking down your son while going through this old, seemingly abandoned island. Along the way you will encounter a handful of other characters, including those from Norse mythology as you explore old villages, wooded areas, caves, mountains, marshes, and more.

The "scares" in Through the Woods were not really what I was expecting coming off of the very early demo from many moons ago. The demo made it seem like this game was going to offer more in the way of in your face scares than what the final product offered. The horror is more on the atmospheric side of things in this final release. The game plays more like a traditional adventure title that finds you collecting clues and advancing story through items and notes left behind from a world you are completely unfamiliar with. This is perfectly fine with me because it allows the player to be more fully immersed in the game rather than worrying about when the next creature is going to jump out at you for a quick and overused scare tactic. Some areas also include points where you must sneak past your enemies, another good tactic for increasing the tension without resorting to cheap thrills. Of course, this will certainly upset those that enjoy those types of games, and if they're looking to Through the Woods to provide them with a multitude of scares then they will undoubtedly come away completely disappointed.

The gameplay never really advances much beyond exploring the fairly linear environments. I say "fairly linear" because while the ultimate goal is to get from point A to point B, the environments do often include branching paths that allow you to explore and find secrets. Each new area offers up new encounters with new foes but the core gameplay remains roughly the same. If you aren't solving small puzzles or looking for the next story beat, then you are walking around and trying to get past a foe or two either by sneaking, running, or simply outsmarting them. This formula works out quite well for this game as it never gets to the point of being boring during the short 3 hour long story. The length of the game may be one that turns away some players, especially for the $19.99 (USD) price point that it's being sold at. Completionists may find greater value in the game as they can replay any of the game's chapters to seek out collectibles or notes that they may have missed the first time through.

Visually, the game is a mixed bag of gorgeous environments and somewhat stiff character animations. The animation shortcomings are really evident in some of the game's cutscenes. I also had a good deal of performance issues with the game, often struggling to maintain a stable framerate at 60FPS no matter what graphical setting I selected, of which there were only a few barebones options. These framerate woes were most evident during the daytime scenes when a high number of cast shadows were on screen. The nighttime, which is thankfully when a majority of the game takes place, was more forgiving on the framerate. I more often than not found myself just soaking up some of the game's visuals as I progressed through the story.

Much like the game's visuals, the game's audio is another mixed bag. The environmental and creature sounds were spot on and really pulls you further into the game's unique blend of Norse mythology and real-world setting. Sadly, the voice acting was a big sore spot on the audio front. The voice work for Sköll and Hati were great but the voice acting for the mother and son, the focal point of the game, were not what I would call "great" by any means. It's difficult to really get upset with the visuals and audio in situations like this where the development team is unquestionably an Indie studio. The game was made by Antagonist, a studio based out of Oslo, Norway that employees just five core team members. I have no qualms about overlooking some degree of Through the Wood's shortcomings given that this is the first game released by such a small studio.

Bottom Line
Through the Woods is a terrific atmospheric adventure title held back from true greatness by some disappointing character work and voice acting. I quite enjoyed my journey through the unquestionably unique environments and I would like to think that I learned a few things about Norse mythology along the way. This game took a chance with its focus on combining an atmospheric horror game with Norse mythology and it paid off for the most part. The price point and lack of "in your face" scares may push away many consumers, but the style and gameplay scored some high marks for my personal gaming tastes. For their first offering, Antagonist shows off a ton of promise and I would love to see what they bring to the table in the future.

Score
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Through the Woods (Developed by Antagonist, Published by 1C Company)
Starting at $19.99 (USD) for the PC

Through the Woods was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.