Here’s an early shocker for you: I forgot what The Fabled Woods was about; all I remember was seeing some mighty fancy images of trees and picturesque camping spots that I never put two and two together that it could be a horror title.
With that typical reckless manner, I clicked play, turned up the volume and headed into the woods. Wow! The Fabled Woods from CyberPunch Studios and Headup Games doesn’t have the same realism as, say Nascence, but a more dream-like approach. The simplest way I can describe it would be walking through a painting.
The colours and lighting are almost better than the real thing, to some extent, and for that reason, it was bordering more on fantasy than realism. Evidentally a walking simulator from gameplay alone, I reach a small campsite with some discarded things. No need to clench yet, Firewatch had a similar vibe but wasn’t scary.
Then I’m told to remember. Pressing the spacebar and evolving into a T-800, my vision becomes red with a few highlighted hotspots. At first, I thought I’m a hunter, but then trying to reverse engineer what has happened in the scene. It’s obvious just looking at the abandoned site, but the vision does diddly squat.
Instead, areas light up, and you’re encouraged to follow the path you came. Getting almost to the end, I turn back. “I must have done something wrong or missing something glaringly obvious?” Cue plenty of wandering with grimaces of being annoyed at not knowing what to do, then occasionally – ooh, that bark looks nice.
I don’t have an RTX enabled card, so couldn’t see the benefits of all the features in The Fabled Woods, but I don’t need to see my reflection in a puddle or getting blinded by the sun for a game to set a mood. The Fabled Woods is a bit of a see-saw where my opinion shifted back and forth.
You hear the tales of three characters, and in between your stroll in the woods, you’ll have this brilliant nightmarish scenery with a menacing score on par with something by Akira Yamaoka. Now we’re getting somewhere. Only, entering one door to the next, I’m aimlessly wandering the woods with some exposition in the ear from whoever is in play.
It’s a bit like Everyone’s Gone To The Rapture, but The Fabled Woods is so brief, it barely scratches the surface. It’s closer to a drama than a horror without giving anything away, but it’s so ambiguous, it leaves so much hanging in the air. There doesn’t need to be answers for everything (I’m a member of the Guild of Ambiguity), but I felt we needed more time with the characters. There is an accompanying book, but try getting gamers to read…
I don’t get why people complain about them when it’s evident what they are. Why look at some bread and expect it to taste like steak? That said, there isn’t enough interaction here, and as lovely as it looks, I was desperate for more of the hellish scenes – not because I’m that way inclined, but because they created an otherworldly premise similar to In Sound Mind.
I don’t have any complaints about walking simulators, but I don’t get the need to include interactive objects that serve no function. It’s all swell to marvel at the 3D objects that the artists painstakingly put together, but aside from the odd item like a key, you can’t take anything with you to solve any puzzles; instead, swirl an empty mug about, looking for any references to Keyser Söze. Opening filing cabinet after filing cabinet got to the point where I eventually ignored it.
The vision trick would only need to be activated when given the prompt, which usually meant backtracking once more. I would try using it for a hint in other sections, expecting there was something required of me. For example, when you are introduced to Todd, you enter a lab, and I ended up walking in circles, inspecting everything for a clue. It would then transpire that I had to go back the way I came.
One of the beauties of The Fabled Woods is minimalism. There isn’t a HUD that clutters the screen, so you can admire these stunning visuals. However, this is still a game, and it’s pretty easy to get lost. A compass or even a map, similar to Rapture, to get your bearings. An objective list seems too much as most of the time you walk from A to B and re-live the stories, but just some sort of hint would have been nice, regardless of the game’s duration.
As a standalone game, and as pretty as it may be, The Fabled Woods didn’t have enough for me to overlook the lack of interaction. Despite the hour or so playthrough, not something I would return to other than to admire the scenery or listen to the score – coincidentally is available separately and very good.