Platforms:PC/Steam Future: PS4, Xbox One | Developer/Publisher: GRIN Gamestudio | ESRB: N/A Controls: Keyboard, Gamepad
Woolfe – The Red Hood Diaries comes to us from GRIN… but not that Grin. No, that one is long dead and buried, and many of its members have moved on to other studios such as Might and Delight, makers of Shelter, or Overkill of the Payday series fame. No this GRIN Gamestudio — note the capital letters — is from Belgium, and this release, Woolfe – The Red Hood Diaries is their successful Kickstarter project… or at least part of it. More on that later.
Woolfe began it’s life on Kickstarter in Auguest 2015, with a $50,000 goal. The developers describe the game as,
“A twisted fable in a rich, fantasy setting of smoke-spewing factories and evil forests, Woolfe is an action-platforming fairy tale of death, industrial greed and vengeance.”
Their excellent concept art visually matched their written goals for the game’s style. They promised to provide a PC game, and though funding included console, they were very specific not to guarantee Xbox One or PS4 releases, as they had never worked on console or those systems previously. They still aim for release on both systems however, later this year.
Let’s get this out of the way right at the start, because I’m not the first to think or write this, and I probably won’t be the last. There is more than a bit of American McGee’s Alice in the stylistic DNA of Woolfe – The Red Hood Diaries. Whether that’s simply a mimetic mental template we all assign the represented departure from standard fairytale style or a concise choice on the part of developers is up to you. However, it cannot be denied that a female protagonist, with a penchant for dramatic violence, all in a twisted version of a fairy certainly doesn’t throw anything new at us here.
While Alice was a fully 3D, fight and platforming world, Woolfe takes the 3D with a fixed camera, resulting in mostly 2D platforming. It’s not exactly 2.5D, because there are enough areas, be they battles or moments of transition, which move into 3D, to fully separate from that label. It’s what makes the game slightly different, and one of the things that makes it frustrating at times. I note that for some, my description here is exactly what 2.5D is, my take on it may be a little different.
Here, Red is a presumably a teenager or young adult, she speaks with a modern inflection, though in rhymes, in a thoroughly unmodern world. It’s a conflicting approach that I found to be mostly tolerable, but at times annoying. She is angsty, and some may feel stereotypically so. Her anger is quite focused though as she seeks to avenge the death of her father — a death she believes to be the result of murder at the hands of B.B. Woolfe.
B.B. is CEO of Woolfe Industries and ruler over the once-thriving city of Ulrica where Red’s father worked as a toy-maker. It’s not coincidence that Woolfe’s factory has produced an army of automatons (not unlike adventure game Syberia), which serve as army and assistants, pushing regular folks out of jobs and driving the city to a slow decay. Red feels the need for vengeance after Joseph’s Hoods untimely death. He was her sole remaining parent after her mother never returned from the woods some time ago — another on a growing list of disappearances in the area.
It’s a fairly simply turn to the… ahem… grim side of the fairytale. Red will traverse the city and surrounding forests while platforming on pipes and ledges, running and leaping from point to point. She’ll need to avoid one-hits kills in the form of steam pipes, thorns, water (she never learned to swim), and the occasional full-on Tesla soldier (where the game fails to tell it’s a one-hit kill, and you can’t get hit at all). And, by the way, she’ll want to be doing this with the aid of a gamepad!
Outside of these elements, Red will have fights with rats, wasp, wolves a few variations of the soldiers and a couple of bosses. It’s nothing overly difficult, but there are some issues that will frustrate and probably cause you to repeat combat or elements of platforming several times. The hit detection on both combat and environmental is lacking. Fights will often come down to spamming attacks as fast as possible or alternately, spamming the roll button to dodge (another element I don’t remember the game teaching me about).
The frustrations might outweigh the enjoyment if it weren’t for the visual presentation. It’s difficult for any game to meet the expectations of concept art. This is even more true for high level concept art that was presented for the Kickstarter of the game. Woolfe meets their concepts head on, not quite fully achieving the depth and detail of their style, but coming very close in several moments throughout. The screenshots you will find in this review should make that evident.
Music is fittingly presented in a dark fairytale style. Simplistic melodies presented, are slightly off or met with dark undertones. Sound design is minimal, but effective. For both aspects, the detracting factor was that there wasn’t more of either. Which brings us to, what will be the overriding issue for most players… Length.
It seems strange to be having this discussion again, but here we are. The length does not define the quality of the game — the developers have described The Red Hood Diaries as a three-chapter story, but have alternately only pointed to a second entry out of two in other places — however the quality within the length of the game is very important when deciding to purchase a title.
Woolfe – The Red Hood Diaries is by no means a bad game. Factoring in the style they sought to achieve and their tiny, tiny development team of six core members, what they have produced thus far shows remarkable promise. It’s an interesting story, with a great visual style. Yet, there are issues with combat, and at times platforming. One of the things that would have saved from some unnecessary deaths — and thereby an unnecessary extension of the scant two hour playtime — would have been a simple character shadow, aiding the player in understanding where Red would be landing in the more 3D sections of platforming.
Being at times annoyed with the main character or her dialogue (not something uncommon for me, Dying Light is another recent example) is a matter of individual taste. The animations, which can be overly simplistic and stilted in sections suggest a lack of time and polish to me rather than skill. Again, a sign of big ambition with a small team in place. Credit to the team, for their vision, and further credit to them for the honesty in their discussion about the length and goals of their game.
Despite any complaints I have of the title I think it’s worth playing, and I definitely think it’s worth supporting developers who “reach for the stars”. The amount of support is what I and others may question here. The first “episode” is priced at $9.99. One would assume the second entry would be priced the same for what will amount to a total playtime of about fours hours. To my mind, you may be better off waiting for both to be out and at a slightly reduced price, as you won’t have a ton of replayability with these titles.
Woolfe – The Red Hood Diaries is available on PC/Steam now, and will be released on PS4 and Xbox One at a later date. No review copy was provided.