The Woods Are Dark

by Laurence Moore

Haunted House

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Disappointing., September 4, 2012
by DB (Columbus, OH)

It's obvious the author put a lot of effort into making this game. The intro especially showcases a strong regional flavor with its use of dialect that bought a lot of initial faith in the story from me and kept me hoping it'd get better. Unfortunately, I have more complaints than anything else about this one.

For starters, the title suggests you'd be spending your time in the woods when you really spend your time investigating a haunted house. The title is true in this case-- you are surrounded by woods and they are dark-- but it just doesn't seem like it's the best thematic fit for this game. But maybe that's a minor complaint.

Room names are coded into the descriptions, so they double-up when the Runner is set to display room names, which is annoying. Luckily this can be turned off. On top of this, early room descriptions are large text dumps, generally overwritten, whereas later rooms run out of steam and are more spartan. It's an awkward distribution. Also, if a player starts without the introduction, the wrong initial room description displays. </end room complaints>

There's a mystery to solve and the way you've got to go about it is by wandering around this haunted house searching and collecting items. While this is pretty traditional for an adventure setup, having to wander in an undirected way slowly dissolves the tension from the setting. The scavenger hunt focus along with the variety of objects that the protagonist deems fit to pack rat work against the horror atmosphere (what would you do with a half-eaten chicken burger, a brush, a holy cross, and a strip of duct tape?).

There is one nice bit of item-craft in the game, though, where you put some items together to make a new one. It's well-hinted and clever, so credit where it's due. It's kind of a shame you only end up using it once, though.

Despite your most meticulous searching, the majority of relevant information collected about the mysterious disappearances you're investigating comes in the form of unreliable hallucinatory sequences of one sort or another rather than material evidence of any kind. Adventure logic-wise, their occurrence makes sense, but diagetically they feel like they happen when the PC is doing the most random things that don't seem to be furthering the cause of finding his lost friends. These include (and-- spoilers-- I'm gonna go ahead and list them all so you can see what I'm talking about) (Spoiler - click to show)arranging dolls in a doll house, building a fire and then sitting in a rocking chair, playing with a rubber ball, looking in a tub (but only after playing with the rubber ball-- there's no real rhyme or reason to this one, it just happens), hanging up a picture, singing, or painting a frickin' pram. Sigh. At any rate, this method of revealing all of the plot-important information through hallucinatory revelations (essentially disconnected plot dumps) rather than evidence is neither satisfying nor convincing. Maybe it could've been more effective if the PC were some sort of paranormal investigator?

The descriptions of most objects found after these violent hallucinations seem especially contradictory, too. (Spoiler - click to show)For example, after seeing the bloodied ghost of a friend drop this ball which was clearly not present before, the description reads, “It was just an ordinary ball found in very ordinary circumstances.” or later after finding this thing belonging to a ghost near a bathtub that moments ago poured blood: “You see nothing special about the model pram.” After some time, the necessary actions for plot advancement stop being well-cued and the world model seems to make less and less sense, with objects spontaneously generating where there had previously been nothing.

The basic flow of wandering, collecting things, fiddling around until you do something right, having a terrible hallucination come along, and then questioning your sanity as the world returns to a state of utter normality (rinse, lather, repeat) becomes a tiresome pattern pretty quickly. Wandering aimlessly after one such scene, I finally turned to the walkthrough and found that I'd been facing a genuine “read the author's mind” puzzle. Then another.

As a small note-- I don't think this is a spoiler-- “looking glass” is a vague name for an item and a bit misleading. To me it suggests a spyglass when what was meant here was a magnifying glass. Perhaps this is a regional difference, though, and I should let it slide even if it's frustrating.

On the other hand... (Spoiler - click to show)
“... it was only then I noticed something on the floor. It was a small model pram...
>paint pram
I shook my head because this wasn't going to work. I had about enough paint to cover a cigarette box let alone a whole pram.
>get pram
I take the model pram.
>paint pram
I made the best I could of it. I lightly covered the model pram with a thin coat of pink paint...”

See the misleading part there?

At least I seemed to pick up on the allusion (I assume this was intended, but at this point I've lost enough faith in the author's design that I can't be sure) and took the hint to examine the *yellow* walls. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, anyone? Unfortunately, that action just led to another hallucination. This one, though, was the Final Reveal From Out of Left Field leading to the climax... the opening move of which is apparently done for me in a longish, over-the-top, and seemingly out-of-character bit no matter what I type. When I finally get to confront the bad guy, a default ADRIFT response amusingly tells me: “Now that isn't very nice.”

The ending sequence definitely needed better beta-testing.(Spoiler - click to show)
>get gun
I couldn't see that anywhere around!
>get shotgun
I take the loaded shotgun.
>shoot tanner
Now that isn't very nice.
>shoot michael
Now that isn't very nice.
>shoot michael tanner with the shotgun
The sweat ran down my face. I couldn't make it to the shotgun – he'd nail me before I got to it.
I had with me a window key, a half burnt diary, a cheap looking glass, a holy cross, a handle, and a loaded shotgun.

Overall, I just wasn't buying it. More vigorous testing would've helped, but only so much. I really wanted to like this game and kept waiting for it to do something clever and win me back somehow, but that never happened. The double whammy twist ending double didn't do it for me, either.


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matt w (Matt Weiner), January 17, 2013 - Reply
For what it's worth, I think of a looking-glass as a handheld mirror. (I'm from Pittsburgh but I think I get this more from nethack and John le Carre.)
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