Size Doesn’t Matter, But…

HIGH The focus on its intriguing narrative.

LOW The lack of any other memorable aspects.

WTF What are these tree-walking sequences?

With small-studio indie games, a player can’t rightfully expect cutting-edge graphics, tons of voice-acted dialogue, or a wide variety of peripheral modes or content, and that’s okay! I often applaud them for how effectively they achieve their goals with limited resources, and I’m a huge fan of minimalist design centered around delivering one well-realized premise — a thing that is achievable for most indies.

Paradoxically, perhaps, I was drawn to The Fabled Woods precisely because its trailers showed a pretty, cutting-edge 3D aesthetic. I was curious to see how this first-person narrative-driven adventure (which may rightfully be described as a walking simulator) would tackle its realistic forest setting and merge it with the story of a mysterious evil lurking within.

We play as an unnamed, unspecified person who’s welcomed into the woods by a narrator. Following a linear path forward, the player encounters three murder scenes, each accompanied by different voices representing victims delivering their own murder’s witness statements. The player can ‘remember’ these scenes as they were at the time of the murder in an awkwardly functioning, detective-like visual mode that reveals blood trails, murder weapons and signs of struggle. Scenes include camping sites, forensic research areas and forest cabins.

It becomes obvious early on that the murder cases are connected. The three witnesses all share the feeling of being watched on the day of their murder and have no apparent shadiness in their behavior — it looks as if the victims were not selected for personal reasons. The Fabled Woods gradually unravels the mystery in a balanced way, progressively intensifying a narrative structure which deals with the player’s perspective.

Revealing any more details about the story would be spoiling things, and since it takes about an hour to reach the end, I am limited to this simple explanation of its premise. This briefness is by no means a bad thing, however. The Fabled Woods does exactly what it sets out to do — it tells a satisfactory story in a pleasing environment without offending the player with excess filler. I applaud the developers for this honest approach to game design, in which creative aspiration is not compromised by ‘marketing’ or ‘content strategy.’

On the other hand, I can’t say that The Fabled Woods is a standout. The story gets the job done but it’s not exceptional when compared to similar content. The linearity is inherent to the genre, but walking forward towards objectives felt like a bit of a waste when it came to the detective-like interface. The voice acting (surprisingly good!) suffers from a lack of screen time and the visuals — possibly its greatest selling point — can’t compete with others on either realism or beauty in design.

It’s a challenge to give The Fabled Woods an appropriate score. The game has merits as a focused project that is not afraid to deliver something exactly as long as it needs to be, and the current state of bloat in the game industry makes me hugely appreciative of this fact. On the other hand, I can’t say that The Fabled Woods made a lasting impact on me, or even provoked much thought — it’s a decent experience, but little more.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Cyberpunch Studios and published by Headup. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 1 hour of play was devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game has no ESRB rating. Since it deals with mature themes of murder and implies murder scenes with only slightly-censored blood, I would consider appropriate for teens, or older.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is fully subtitled and only has visual gameplay clues. No audio is needed for play. Subtitles are not resizable and cannot be altered. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

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1 year ago

Thank you for the informative review. 1 hr of light narrative-driven game play? I can dig that, but maybe not until a good sale.