Early Access has perhaps changed the way we view games in many ways as consumers are able to generally see games at earlier and earlier stages than ever before. Games are put in to early access anywhere from the pre-alpha to the beta stages of game development with a slew of ways of using it. Right now the industry is trying to figure out how to do it with some games like Prison Architect doing much of their development through Early Access, to games like Divinity: Original Sin using it to refine and improve their mechanics significantly. The last category is those that use it as a beta – an attempt to fix bugs and deal with balance issues that remain - and it is in the last category, with just over a month to its release, that Woolfe - The Red Hood Diaries may be closest to.
Woolfe - The Red Hood Diaries, as it is right now has a lot of bugs in it, probably has some balance issues, and will have some things moved about. Not everything is available in the early access, as they are keeping portions of the game behind closed doors, though exactly how much is tough to say. In the case of bugs, balance, image clipping and such – I’m going give Woolfe a general pass as those will likely be fixed. While some heavier stuff may be changed, it is going to be more difficult to accomplish big changes in design choices inside a month, though the release date could conceivably change.
However, that leaves us to Woolfe - The Red Hood Diary’s design choices and here is where my big complaints with the game are. I’m going to run these down and then talk about what I thought Woolfe did well.
Woolfe has an inordinate amount of invisible walls in it blocking a lot of paths, jumping locations and such, often for no reason. In many regions you’ll see a fence – something that in parts you have to jump over – leading to an area but it will for no conceivable reason block forcing you down a path with nothing on it. That isn’t the worst offender, as at one point early on there is what appears to be a split in the road with two paths, one heading left, one heading right with the same tile set, with neither being blocked by anything. The left one, for some reason, is completely invisible walled just indescribably
In one early puzzle, you have to sneak around boxes and aren’t allowed to jump over them no matter how much you try or how much you can jump over higher things. While that is bad, it is made worse when later on you have to jump over similar boxes after you have already conditioned you in the early tutorial type levels that you are not allowed to jump over them.
Continuing the theme of things not appearing like they are is boxes. Namely how you can interact with boxes. Mostly boxes are not interactable, but at times boxes that look the same will allow you to destroy them – and in some locations require you to so that you can advance. This is another case of Woolfe teaching you that you can’t, and then saying you can… and then being inconsistent throughout the rest of it on whether or not you can.
Woolfe's combat is a mixture of fast paced and spectacle fighter – with the latter picking up later on and really needing some tutorial work for the final release to tell players about some of the moves in it and such. However, there are some issues with it beyond that, such as the controls not always being responsive in combat, and some of the moves not working very well.
In particular, the Axe Throw has issues with how it frame freezes and appears, with it sometimes failing to freeze enemies throughout its long animation which is inconsistent with the rest of the moves that are similar that do freeze the things more or less completely. Worse to some degree is that the axe move slows down the pace and makes it feel like things are out of your hand as you no longer have that feeling of control and the camera focuses on it rather then what you are doing.
Speaking of the camera, there are issues with it as well, as it is entirely controlled by AI and is slow to respond at times to what is going on, needing time to reset to show you things and doesn’t really let you always see where you are going. This leads to times where you annoyingly die because of hazards there was no way to see coming and having to go back to the last checkpoint.
Woolfe's controls are something of an issue at times, as it eschews the mouse for a pure keyboard control scheme and has some issues with responsiveness at times being slow or clumsy in some areas. Occasionally Woolfe forgets about some of its own controls, such as the interact button at enter for a long period after you get your weapon (which is never explained why you don’t use it early on…). In one part of Woolfe - The Red Hood Diaries, you can shove a box down, but it doesn’t let you use the interact button, instead requiring that you use attack for some reason. By the second half of the Woolfe early access, when it wanted the interact button used to trigger some cutscene stuff it had been hours since it was used and I had entirely forgotten about it.
Also it has a pet peeve of mine – when you go to look at controls for rebinding or just to check, controller is the default selection not keyboard. This is a game on PC. PC’s use Keyboard and Mouse first, with controllers optional. Please developers, make keyboard the default selection when developing for PC, as that is the thing that PC uses.
Dialogue in Woolfe – the Red Hood Diaries is somewhat uneven with portions of it being nicely tongue in cheek with the tone its going for, and others a bit grating. Woolfe would benefit from some more barks from Red Riding Hood herself so that she isn’t repeating herself at times in combat, and it feels like Woolfe - the Red Hood Diaries needs to decide whether it wants to do rhyming, and verse or not. It has several times where it does so, and sometimes it doesn’t, and the change back and forth there is jarring on the atmosphere of the game.
There are also some minor issues with the story at times, but that would be getting into the realm of real nit picking (such as Granny being an awful parent). but I will point out one that particularly annoyed me. At the halfway mark of whats in the early access – after you leave the city – Woolfe requires you to go trigger items with interact and get the cutscene-esq narrated dialogue that way, while very slowly walking about before moving on. You aren't able to run or jump here, and there is only one diary entry that hits for exploring the beach a little. For a game that is so often fast paced, it was very annoying to be slowed to a crawl like that and have the exposition so clumsily delivered.
That’s not to say everything in Woolfe is awful. In the second major region, the platforming, while having issues with deceptive landing spots, gets to be significantly more challenging than it is through the first area and has a major change in scenery and to some extent tone being much more colorful but twisted.
The art in Woolfe - The Red Hood Diaries looks pretty nice, and Red Riding Hood is a competent… if overly revenge driven. Some of the animation is well done when it’s not clipping and the move set once you figure out on your own what is available isn't terrible – though the Axe Throw needs work in my opinion. There are some decent collectibles, though they are all easy to get and unlock neat little diary entries and such for you to look at to get. The diary entries are a wide variety from concept art, to 'did you know', to fleshing out some stuff in the game world.
The best part of Woolfe was the boss fight with the Piper at the end of the city district, where it used several waves of rats mixed in with some special effects and sped them up over 3 waves. Inside each wave there were 3 steps, rat hordes, damaging waves, and then ghost pipers of instant death which sped up how quickly it moved on each of the waves. It was a well-designed and executed boss fight to finish off a region that points out that this team has some really good ideas.
So in short, there are some good things here: some good fighting elements that can make for a good fast paced platform/specticle fighting, some platforming challenges in the second half of the early access, a well rendered setting, and solid audio work all around.
If they are able to fix up invisible walls issues, work on controls, and some of the other issues, this could be a solid platformer, but I cannot recommend it right now due to those issues as well as the inevitable early access bugs, clipping and such. Woolfe – the Red Hood Diaries is currently in Steam Early Access and is planning to fully release on March 17th.
If you are interested in what it looks like and hearing my thoughts as I played the game at first - the stream of it is available to view - it goes up through the first half of the Early Access.
Disclosure: A key for this game was provided for playing it for preview and review purposes. I also spoke to the devs after writing this discussing my concerns with the game when they asked my opinion on it, and what I told them was more or less the concerns raised here with the game.