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The Woods are Dark Reviews
Author: Laurence Moore (as Cannibal)
Date: 2003
ADRIFT 3.9


Reviewed by Duncan Bowman

 Disappointing

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...

“... 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.

>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

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.


Reviewed by David Whyld

The majority of adventure games that set out to be chilling and scary fail miserably - they're neither chilling, scary or (99% of the time) any good. The Woods Are Dark is one of the few that succeeds.

You begin with a lengthy introduction which, while perhaps a tad too long, does give the game a certain amount of depth that is quite refreshing. It makes a nice change to all those adventures where you're dumped in the first location and have no idea what you're even doing there, although an option to skip the introduction might have been a good idea.

The Woods Are Dark concerns a hunt for friends lost in a wood on the Irish coast. Years before a brutal murder was committed in the area. Is there a connection between that and the events of the present? You better believe it.

There are several things about this game that are appealing: the well-written introduction, the location descriptions, the use of puzzles... Each location comes with a proper description that makes you feel like you really are there - there are none of the one line room descriptions that so often plague adventure games of this short. Descriptions are lengthy and interesting, often containing items that need careful examination to reveal necessary clues. There are an impressive amount of static items to be examined, and although the majority of these are nothing more than scenery they add a proper level of depth to the game.

I particularly liked the way most of the puzzles were put together: sometimes just trying something because it seems like the logical thing to do works. No doubt quite a bit of time has been spent on this aspect of the game and it shows.

As you play the game, a genuine sense of unease builds up, added further to by the fact that the game is told in the past tense. This helps give a sense of realism that precious few games manage. It also adds considerably to the atmosphere, a feat made all the better by the stylish writing which, though lengthy, is always interesting to read. If the author hasn't considered a career as a writer of horror fiction he perhaps should do.

The Woods Are Dark is certainly the best of the recent games written with ADRIFT and a testament to the fact that, with effort, it is possible to write a genuinely decent horror game. 

Logic: 7 out of 10
Puzzles are amazingly straightforward and it's quite interesting how easy to figure out some of them are when you just give them a little thought. 

Problems: 9 out of 10 (10 = no problems)
Sometimes it's difficult to tell if what you've encountered is a bug or not, but after I dealt with the puzzle relating to the dolls house I discovered a ball had mysteriously appeared but I was unable to pick it up. I also found myself unable to pick up the cat. A bug? Or was I simply going about things in the wrong way?

Story: 9 out of 10
A definite winner. Atmospheric, spooky and - quite often - downright chilling.

Characters: 0
No actual characters which was a pity.

Style of writing: 9 out of 10
Impressive throughout, from the opening sequence to the location descriptions.

Game: 8 out of 10
A very well written horror game that is the sort of adventure we ought to be seeing a lot more of.

Overall: 42 out of 50


Reviewed by Emily Short (1)

A horror game in which you are drawn to go check out an old cottage where, years before, hideous murders occurred. To give it credit, it actually provides a slightly more reasonable justification for this than most horror stories do. The early atmosphere is also fairly strong, with interesting touches of local Irish color and an austere but reasonably successful setting. Due either to interpreter incompatibilities (I played on MacScare, which is not officially sanctioned) or to the game's internal problems, I ran into a couple of nasty bugs, however, and on turning to a walkthrough I was not as happy with some of the later parts of the game as with the beginning. There are occasional moments of bad parsing, as in all but the most rigorously-written and -tested ADRIFT games. Still, a horror aficionado may well enjoy it, and it has some nice moments. 

Rating: **** 



Reviewed by Emily Short (2)

This starts off reasonably promising. It's a horror game set in Ireland, and the Irish local color felt fairly realistic to me -- some of my favorite bits of the game are to be found in the dialogue that establishes backstory. I haven't been to Ireland and have no idea whether Irish people actually speak like this, but there were some parts of the conversation that felt realistic rather than generic or stereotypical, and I enjoyed them. 

The body of the game is about exploring a deserted cottage for clues about the murder of some people who lived there long before. The setting is austere but, for the most part, well done. Then I ran into a point where I simply wasn't allowed to pick up an object that had been brought into my environment due to an event. I kept getting a message saying that I "didn't have it with me", or words to that effect. This was mysterious. I found a walkthrough for the game; I followed it precisely but still wasn't able to get past that buggy point. Therefore, I am suspecting a flaw in MacScare rather than in the game code, though it's hard to be sure. 

The walkthrough included a transcript, so I was able to read what happens past the point where I got stuck. Unfortunately some of the puzzles seem to be a little arbitrary, and the writing becomes less restrained and more over the top, in the later portions. I have this problem with almost every horror game/book/movie I have ever experienced, though -- once I get past the creepy hinty bits into the graphic revelations, I'm turned off. Even Anchorhead, one of my favorite IF games ever, did this a little. So these comments deserve a grain of salt. 


Reviewed by Jason Guest

Highly enjoyable 

Initially I was put off this game by the extremely long introduction and opening descriptions, but the style soon settles down and overall the writing is excellent and extremely atmospheric, marred only by a couple of spelling mistakes. The Irish setting was convincing and very original. 

I would agree with T. Mullerkins that the puzzles are a little straightforward for my liking and I completed the game very quickly, which was a shame because I was really enjoying myself. However, I liked the unexpected aspect of the game and it did make me jump on a few occasions. It's just a shame it wasn't longer!


Reviewed by Stewart J. McAbney

A mysterious folk tale, a blood encrusted machete, and a man playing with dolls! 

Horror games are few and far between with regards to ADRIFT. Where the majority of games 'treat' us to monsters, Cannibal's The Woods Are Dark embraces the current horror trend: the psychological, or the horror one creates for themselves. 

Written in past tense and from the first person perspective, which is an interesting concept, The Woods Are Dark invites the player to participate in what's been and gone, like Goya's painting, I Saw This! One drawback, I found, was that the game begins with a large expositional piece that could - to be honest - have been almost entirely omitted. The game, because of this though, firmly establishes its setting in western Ireland. Maybe, there is a question of equilibrium between setting and story whereby the game may benefit from a more concise introduction. 

Text-wise, The Woods Are Dark is pleasant (maybe not the correct word for a horror!) to read: descriptions are short and contain necessary information, further elements of the story are revealed as the game continues, and despite the occasional spelling error, it reads well. 

The game contains several objects which serve to back-up the room descriptions such as 'undergrowth' and 'walls'. Very rarely did I come across an area where the use of a static object hadn't already been thought of, although there could have been an alias for 'trap door' (i.e 'trapdoor'). Dynamic objects in the game, however, are fine; each have their descriptions and uses during the adventure. 

Although there are numerous characters within The Woods Are Dark, the author doesn't allow us to interact with them. There is no chance to 'ask Melissa about anything' as, again, the game - using its voice - implements exposition to reveal more of the story. Examining an object, for example, may reveal a conversation that is simply read than participated in. 

There is little guess-the-verb in The Woods Are Dark - the occasional prompt may be necessary to guide the player in the right direction, although the majority of puzzles are logical enough and should require a minimum of thought. 

In conclusion, this game is a gem amongst ADRIFT's horror games, albeit one that could use a little dusting to let its worth sparkle through. It features sound construction, an interesting tale, and, if you are having to fill a rainy day, then what better way to pass the time than participating in a rainy night? 


Reviewed by THoiA

This is a game written by an IF author with the focus on author. This boiled down to being a well written creepy story that waits for you to prod it along. I can't applaud this game enough for that aspect, there wasn't mucking about with making the player agonize over puzzles. Not that the puzzles were overly simple, but rather they were straight forward, thought provoking and important to the plot. There is one that I can think of that caused me a bit of aggravation more towards the end of the game but once solved it really escalated the pace of the game and therefore probably should be left a bit difficult. 

The intro to this game is very well written and detailed enough to give background, character development (character development in terms of the plot line as the game doesn't really have characters in it) and build a genuine interest in the story. 

The game starts out as a basic haunted house story and generates the appropriate emotions however as the game unravels the lush detailed writing gives the player a true sense of unsettlement. This is a pretty short game and a lot of fun to run through. I feel a little let down with the ending in all honesty. I think the writing might have gone a bit soft here, but given that there is suppose to be a sequel to the game that can easily be fixed…however when I finished the game it said the sequel would arrive in 2003. I checked the authors website no such sequel as of yet. 

My bottom line is "The Woods Were Dark" is a superb, fun to play, well thought out horror game that could have ended on a slightly better note. 

9 out of 10 in my book. 


Reviewed by AmberShards

The Woods are Dark begins well, with a splash of Irish color, and also as others have noted, provides a reasonable justification for exploring a haunted house. However, once you are past that and the first handful of room descriptions, all the flaws of a carelessly-coded ADRIFT game come to the fore.

For instance, you generally can't interact with objects once you've achieved whatever you were supposed to do with them, even if they are still referenced in the room description. The default responses to interacting with scenery objects (or objects deemed now unimportant or not yet important) are flat-out denials that the object exists. The two-word parser is chafing, especially in a modern IF game. The atmosphere is better than average, but the puzzles are completely unclued and don't move the plot forward at all; they barely add to the atmosphere.

Even for horror afficianados, The Woods Are Dark doesn't deliver much. Its limitations far outweigh its delivery. Past the intro and the first few rooms, it's all downhill from here.
 


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