There's a wonderful mix of mannerisms and themes in Infinite Fall's Night in the Woods, and they make it one of the standout experiences of the year so far, mixing seemingly childish aesthetics with adult, dark themes and clever details to tell a story about something that few games dare to touch. Night in the Woods captures the feeling of uncertainty of being a new "adult" and all the difficult choices we have to make in that process of maturity, as well as all the complications that come with it. It's about the American working class daily burdens and challenges, and how small town America dies a slow death. It's layered and nuanced without being pretentious or overly artsy, and it's downright amazing.
It was a little over three years ago when friends Alec Holowka and Scott Benson asked for $50,000 USD through Kickstarter in order to realise their collective dream of developing their own adventure game. Only a week later, they'd smashed their target and started development, releasing the finished product a few weeks ago.
The story revolves around a cat named Mae, who moves back to her parents' house after dropping out of college. She chooses, every day, which of her friends she will spend the afternoon with, and the focus is clearly on the storytelling and the wonderfully complex and interesting characters, rather than the game mechanics. Bea, Gregg, and Angus are all friends, and vastly different in terms of character. All three are full of life and their thoughts left us thinking long after we'd turned the game off, due in part to the fact that the dialogue is superb and the themes are, as stated earlier, thought provoking and intelligently structured.
In terms of performance, the game ran smoothly without any glitches or bugs to note. Instead Night in the Woods amazed us with wonderful aesthetic variety and a clever use of light that illuminates some of the environments with wonderfully realised evening sunshine, moonlight, and that magical morning mist that is almost ever-present in this lovely game.
Depending on which of the characters Mae chooses to spend her day with, the player sees and learns different things. The game experience will be different depending on your choices and the replay value is high as a result. There's a mystery in it, too, of course. Night in the Woods is nuanced and multifaceted in terms of the integrated approach to the essential themes that are explored.
Infinite Fall mixes Animal Crossing with Twin Peaks, sprinkles a little bit of Life is Strange and Alan Wake in there too, and ends by throwing in a little Limbo. The mix is easy to fall in love with and difficult to let go. Mae and her moral obligations, as well as the mystery out there in the woods, which both frightened us and created an enormous amount of curiosity, is something every gamer needs to experience. Just like with Braid and Journey, this is an indie diamond that you need to experience, and there's a darkness beneath the surface of this story that is very stylishly designed and reminiscent of HP Lovecraft and Chris Ware's best work.
It's very much the details that make Night in the Woods so memorable, and although we want to tell you how the story unfolds, what exactly is being said, and how we experienced some of the memorable scenes, but we would much rather you experienced this on your own. Curiosity, depression, friendship, loyalty, questioning, doubt, and cynicism are the themes explored here, and even if it starts off a little slowly, the journey is an adventure you simply shouldn't miss.
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