About 70 minutes long RTX demo not really worth its asking price.
Genre: Adventure, Story Rich,
Developer: CyberPunch Studios
Release date: 25 March, 2021
Passion projects are always a mixed bunch. It’s kind of hard faulting a solo developer for trying to express and put his thoughts, feelings and meanderings onto digital paper and sharing his work. But when your work is a glorified, overpriced, about 70 minutes long Unreal Engine demo that just slightly comes off as pretentious art, some criticism is probably well deserved.
The Fabled Woods is a very short mystery exploration that follows a walking simulator path tightly, sending you on a rather dazed trip through a dense, lush forest with some very fetching visuals that are pretty much the only star of this show, even if your hardware doesn’t have RTX capabilities. It goes all out here, maybe even too much. God rays, lighting, water reflections, a haze filter over everything, like you’re in a constant sleep stupor, occasionally over saturated foliage and surroundings, the works. Depending on your visual preferences, you’ll either love or cringe at the visuals.
Doors to Nowhere
Your journey through the forest features three chapters, each named after the person narrating it. There’s not really much gameplay or interactivity, besides walking and backtracking through the forest on a linear path and clicking on random interactable objects highlighted in white. Most of them are superficial and repeating, like bottles, plates, and even a few axes, except maybe a few letters where you can read a bit of text, some drawings and a few objects that move the story forward. It’s also unintuitive and very easy to get stuck, especially at the first campsite, until you figure out what the game expects of you. It’s not really explained or shown well what you’re supposed to be doing.
The story, if it can even be called that, is sparse, clichéd, shallow, monotonous and feels rushed. It’s narrated by the characters as you scamper through the forest like a confused doe, at times using your limited, mildly discomforting Witcher/Batman/insert character detective vision that paints everything scarlet, looking for a path forward. When you find it, it whisks you to a kind of a nightmare, dreamlike world where you’re supposed to get some emotions and start caring more for the characters. That never really happens as the game doesn’t really give you any reason or moments to connect and care about anything or anyone. Except maybe when will this stroll end.
There are small threads of a dark narrative and an emerging redemption and forgiveness story, but it’s wrapped up and hidden in a ball of yarn filled with unsatisfying monologues, filler chatter that leads to nowhere and variable voice acting that feels forced on occasion. Imagery alone, without a story on which the gameplay hinges to back it up, doesn’t work here. There’s a notebook you find in-game that you can download as a separate .pdf for free that tries to explain more of the story, which is well made and a neat touch, but ultimately pointless.
There’s nothing really unique on offer here that hasn’t been done before, the game’s redeeming visuals included. Lacklustre writing doesn’t invest you into the characters or the story, it’s one mechanic, the scarlet vision, feels contrived and unnecessary, linearity is expected, but combined with other faults gets more pronounced and boring here and the price, which started at 14.99€ (!?!?) and is 9.99€ after reduction, is still way too much for something like this. Something good may come out of this from CyberPunch Studios and I really hope it does, but if you must test out your RTX shenanigans on The Fabled Woods, wait for a solid sale. Or go find a longer and cheaper RTX demo on Steam. Bright Memory comes to mind.
Technical details: The game was unstable and had some issues when it came out, but it’s been patched and I had no technical issues at all. I tested RTX and DLSS and at maxed out settings I was getting 40-60 fps in 1080p on an i7-7700k, RTX2070, 32GB of RAM and an SSD.