There’s a lot to relate to in Infinite Fall’s somewhat naval gazing indie Night in the Woods. For the better part ten hours you get to know Mae, her complicated relationships with her family and friends, and start to slowly peel back the layers of Mae’s psyche that caused her to dropout and run away from college. Much of it is beautifully drawn and the soundtrack is top notch for this type of game. Then somewhat out of nowhere someone else grabs the wheel and turns what could’ve been a poignant story into sheer lunacy from which it can’t possibly recover. This is our review of Night in the Woods.
We had our first experience with Night in the Woods several years ago at Sony’s PSX Event in Las Vegas. At the time it was one of the more memorable titles that billed itself as sort of a Wonder Years game with anthropomorphized animals in the lead roles. Now so many years later when we finally get to see the game, we’re pleased to see much of that relatable experience is there.
You play as Mae as you return home after having recently dropped out of a brief stint at college. The tutorial segment sees you navigate a train station briefly before being confronted by the local 50 who fortunately is Mae’s aunt who takes him home to see her parents where the story picks up.
What follows are a series of moments that may hit a little close to home for many of us. Your parents try and fail to understand your decisions. Your friends you haven’t seen in a while are drifting away in their own respective worlds. The town in which you grew up is changing and you have history both good and bad with the locals that is reflective in every conversation. You get a little too drunk at a party and embarrass yourself. In our favorite sequence you manage to rekindle a friendship but engaging in some hijinks at the nearly abandoned old mall. Again, all of this is set to a consistently top notch soundtrack.
But as the game starts to reach a natural conclusion and you’ll finally address your demons with your friends and family, you witness a kidnapping and the game changes tone almost completely. You start to have strange and pointless nightmares that seem to serve only as filler to pad out the playtime of the game as you hunt for ghostly bandmembers to complete the nightmare. Your motley crew starts a ghost hunt to make sense of the strange occurrences and disappearances in the town. The culminates in a mine where your confronted with some strange truths and your teams makes even stranger decisions to handle such truths. We want to avoid spoilers but we were just scratching our heads as the crew almost made light what’s happening moments before one last jam session instead of, say calling the police.
There’s a beautiful game to play here for the first 5-6 hours but once people start disappearing the game begins to stumble and frankly never gets back on track again which makes the back half of the game more of a chore than it should be (especially due to those damn nightmare levels). Here’s the breakdown.
What works well
The devs do a great job of making these animals relatable through Mae’s very real experiences with social anxiety and general aimlessness in life. A game focused entirely on that would be outstanding.
What doesn’t work well
Well the second half twist that is a complete shift and seems like it belongs in a completely separate game brings this whole experience down. Instead of rebuilding a tenuous relationship with a friend and coming to terms with my own issues, I’m mashing the square button to kick a dude in the face.
Overall: Good but skippable
We highly encourage you to check out the soundtrack and maybe watch some Let’s Play videos to get a sense of the style before you decide to invest. Also just know instead of dealing with complexity of adolescence the game opts to simply point at it before getting distracted by balls out ridiculous plot that’s shoehorned into the game with bare bones foreshadowing.