Everybody needs good neighbours.

Title: Grimmwood – They Come at Night
Platform: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Big Moustache Games
Publisher: Headup
Release Date: Out now
Price: £11/$15
TL;DR: The promise of the game is outweighed by the lack of players.
Family Focus:  Click here for more information

You arrive in the Town of Hopeless Optimism on Sunday, and a quick tour of the village shows that the fortifications will just about hold. Your fellow villagers are dotted about; one is resting, one is scouting, and one has been in the forest for the last three days. You scrounge around the village storage room, helping yourself to a couple of bits of cooked fish, an axe; just before you head out into the forest, you’re warned that night is drawing ever-closer. “Best not to risk it then,” you think, and so you rest, log out, and time slips by. It’s two days later when you play Grimmwood again, and upon opening the game, you learn that your fellow villagers were killed during an attack at night; you had died the day before, dehydration leading to kidney failure.

Grimmwood is a game all about being neighbourly when it comes down to it, making you work alongside your fellow villagers to ensure your unusually rather morbid named neighbourhood stays full of the living for as long as possible. The game’s standard mode plays in real-time, with events unfolding whether you’re playing or not. Grimmwood does offer some charming features, but the game itself feels like a social experiment that’s still waiting to get into gear.

The game plays out like as a hybrid between a city sim and a basic survival game; you’ll go out to the surrounding forest to gather wood, herbs, and food, whether that be from hunting or foraging. After a successful trip to the forest, you’ll return to your village and store everything you’ve found in the communal storage area, or else use some of the resources to forge better defences for the nightly attacks, or more advanced equipment, like fishing rods or nets for your next outing. That is, of course, if you’re a good neighbour. You could just as easily store all your goods in the safety of your home’s personal storage, much like a first-year university student does with their handful of snacks.

Even if a little generic, Grimmwood’s rinse and repeat gameplay does offer enough in its necessity to make you want to keep going out, pushing on from the already explored areas of the forest to see what else is hidden in the blankness of the map. Unfortunately, when you do travel the path less taken, the majority of the forest is empty; every so often, you might find a pond to fish from or refill a water bottle, or you’ll spot an undergrowth to forage from, though there may be monsters or beasts lurking within the forest. Whether it’s a bear, a pack of wolves, a goblin, or some other ghoul, combat in the game is horribly simplistic, where you’re limited to one option: attack. In which case, you’ll simply be sitting through a set of basic animations as your hunter swings their hammer or sword, or else firing arrows from afar. Though because the game’s focus on combat is minimal, the combat itself isn’t a huge deal, instead being used as yet another way of picking up resources, but it is nonetheless a little disappointing that it’s so utterly boring.

But as I said, Grimmwood is far less about combat than it is about the strange sensation of building a community, and it’s through this that the game offers a handful of charming little features. At the top of this list is the opportunity to write your character’s own backstory, something which let me create a character who was once a postman who fell into a time machine and awoke in the dark, gloomy forest. So, my out-of-time postman, named “Man with Beard,” entered the village, joining a man who’d lost his dog, a woman with a past so mysterious it was unknown even to her, and another man who was simply “Feelin’ fine.” The other features include a largely unused chatroom, a forum for housekeeping rules, and a town hall used for figuring out what should be prioritised in the village. It’s annoying to see the tools the game has go largely unused because if they were given some attention, it’d pose some really compelling intersections as you all figure out what to do next.

If the ticking of the clock in the game’s standard mode is a little too slow for you, Grimmwood’s Blitz mode offers a far more fast-paced slice of a survivalist lifestyle, with days passing by every 15 minutes. And while this sounds like it could offer a lot more action in hunting, fortifying, and decision-making, every time I did try the mode, I was very much alone, something that contradicts the very nature of the game to the point that – in its current state – makes it unplayable. Hunting, fortifying, and finding resources all on your lonesome is, simply put, hard work and usually ends with you dying of fatigue, being swallowed up by the gloom of the forest.

Grimmwood won’t be for everyone, but hidden away in its obscure state is a game with an interesting idea. And while the game’s standard mode does drag, you do at least get a taste of what four strangers can achieve when they actually try to work together. If Blitz mode’s faster-paced gameplay got a bit more attention, it’s not out of the question that Grimmwood could offer a longeivity in its gameplay similar to Don’t Starve – here’s hoping a few more people take the gamble and give it a go.

The Good:

  • An interesting premise
  • The origin creator offers a lot of fun
  • Classic and brilliant fantasy design

The Bad:

  • There’s nowhere near enough people playing for the game to play as it should

Family Focus

Grimmwood hasn’t been rated in either the UK or the US at the time of this review. There’s not real violence, but the day to day management of surviving might make Grimmwood feel like more of a chore than a fun game for kids to play.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the game provided by PR for the purpose of review.