The fourth entry in Octavi Navarro and Susanna Granell’s Midnight Scenes series, From The Woods, tells the tale of an institution for young men, in which some spooky goings on occur after the arrival of a new boy, Oliver.
Oliver and his sister, along with their babysitter, were captured in the woods ten years ago. The babysitter was murdered, and the children never seen again. But a decade later, Oliver reappears in the woods, and given the severity of his situation is taken to the Fernwood Creek Center to recover. At which point, things start getting creepy, and rather deadly.
The majority of the story is told in flashback, as recounted by 18-year-old Elijah, another patient recalling the events of the previous week to his counsellor. We then control Elijah in these flashbacks, as he lives his life at the Center while embroiled in his ongoing relationships with friends, bullies and staff, all while trying to get to know Oliver. And the stuff with the tree.
This is by far the least interactive adventure in the series so far, playing more like a visual novel than a point-and-click adventure. You can make some vague dialogue choices, and there’s a grand total of one “puzzle” in there, but the structuring of the tale makes it a compelling experience all the same. The jumping about in the timeline is effective, and over its hour-long run, I began to care about Elijah and what happened to him.
I’m obviously not getting into any specifics here, because the point of the story is to experience it. I will say, though, that it’s an odd inclusion in the Midnight Scenes series, given how much it doesn’t feel like a Twilight Zone-style story. Elijah, amusingly, talks about everyone else in the Center through his imagined Twilight-ish descriptions, meaning a ton of twisty ideas are thrown away in one-liners. But the game itself plays things far more straight.
Well, that’s an ironic choice of word, given Elijah is gay, and experiences some particularly awful homophobic bullying during the game. Worth noting, along with others experiencing racism, and of course discussions of mental health issues. Set vaguely in the ’90s, it’s authentic, and I think handled well. Also, you know, it’s got a bunch of more inhuman horror in there, and some pretty grim bloody images.
I think I’d have liked something more twisty toward the end, given the series it’s from, but I still very much liked the ending. It gets a bit scattered in its narrative in the last few minutes, not quite as tight as the rest of the game, but it’s also a far more ambitious piece of storytelling than previous short games from Navarro. I appreciated it for that a lot.
As ever, the art is exceptional, and it makes great use of music. The sound effects, however, are perhaps a little cartoonish in places, somewhat tempering the tension. Overall, it maintains an excellent level of spookiness, and even managed to make someone as jump-resistant as me feel startled at one point. For its tiny price, it’s a definite pick for fans of creepy tales.