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Woolfe - The Red Hood Diaries (PC) artwork

Woolfe - The Red Hood Diaries (PC) review

"The Button-Mashing Diaries"

Woolfe - The Red Hood Diaries (PC) image

The concept of a “twisted fairytale” is one that is close to my heart. American McGee’s Alice is one of my favourite games of all time, and there’s something about taking a classic story and crafting it into something fresh and original that really appeals to me. Projects like these can be highly fertile and creative, and on the surface, Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries seems to be cut from the same cloth. However, it doesn’t take much digging to unearth the worms, in this case...

This game is an action platformer that follows the tragic tale of a teenage Red Riding Hood. She is out for revenge against evil industrialist B. B. Wolfe, who is suspected of murdering her father. There is no literal “Big Bad Wolf” in this story (unless you count the trash mobs of wolves that you fight later on in the game), but rather the proverbial “wolf” is a man, so the story is less a parable about wandering off the beaten path and getting eaten than it is a comment on Victorian industrialism, I guess. Honestly, it’s not that deep.

Or at least, I don’t think it is. The story is actually rather convoluted and hard to follow at times. Red’s family history is quite complicated, revealed mostly through monologues and collectible walls of text, but they don't have much of an impact on the main storyline, which focuses almost entirely on the revenge tale against Woolfe. The city Woolfe controls, Ulrica (yet another word based on the word “wolf”) is slowly being turned into a mechanized nightmare, wherein honest folk can’t get a job, young girls regularly go missing, and evil robotic toy soldiers patrol the streets. Red is looking for clues about her father there; he helped design these robots, though apparently he had moral qualms about doing so. Eventually he turned in his resignation to Woolfe, who killed him for it. Why? I dunno. We never discover exactly why. Woolfe is just a bad dude, I guess. Woolfe also doesn’t have any lines, which complicates matters. We never get to see his side of the story.

Woolfe - The Red Hood Diaries (PC) image

C’est la vie. I guess they couldn’t afford to hire another voice actor for him. In fact, there are only two voice actors in the entire game – One for Red, and one for her grandmother. Michelle Sparks’ performance as Red is competent, but dragged down by lackluster writing. The narration also has a forced, rhyming nature to it that borders on annoying; it feels like it was penned by someone with an imperfect understanding of English (which is probably the case, as the developers are Belgian).

That aside, Woolfe does have some things going for it. Foremostly, it has gorgeous graphics. The Unreal engine is used to good effect here, with plenty of high-quality textures, particle effects, motion blurs, depth of field effects, ragdolls, godrays, et al. The gameworld has a beautiful, distinctive visual style to it. Red and the other characters also benefit from high-quality animation work, whether they are in combat or otherwise.

Also, the controls, while using a gamepad, feel pretty good. Red can sprint, slide, double-jump, and grapple onto ledges with ease, and the platforming sections feel surprisingly solid as a result. There is one particularly enjoyable sequence within a corrupted forest that felt, to me, like it had attained the perfect balance between being too challenging and too easy, with a lot of quick thinking and reflexes required to evade brambles, spikes, and bottomless pits. The checkpoints are pretty generous, too, but I found that I didn’t need them most of the time. All in all, there weren’t many spots in the game where I felt frustrated, and that’s definitely a point in Woolfe’s favour.

Woolfe - The Red Hood Diaries (PC) image

The combat, similarly, is robust enough to be enjoyable, even if it is lacking in polish. Some battles devolve into mindless button tapping, though Red’s dodge roll does comes in handy against the more difficult enemies. When facing groups, Red has a myriad of special moves at her disposal, which consume a sort of mana that she collects from dead enemies (similar to how Alice harvested “meta-essence” from creatures in American McGee’s Alice). These abilities unlock over the course of the game, and include an axe-stomp, a whirlwind attack, and a boomerang strike.

Why does she do this, though? Why does Little Red Riding Hood, for some reason, have magical powers in this twisted version of the fairy tale? I dunno. We never get that far. Just as Red is beginning to articulate these questions, the game ends abruptly before the three-hour mark with a sharp cliffhanger. It’s clear that the developers simply ran out of resources to continue production. If you haven’t already guessed, Woolfe was an indie project. It was Kickstarted – Just barely – Raising only a paltry $72,000, which is certainly not enough to bring an ambitious project like this to fruition. Some of the backer rewards got shipped, some didn’t. Eventually, after poor sales, the developers admitted defeat and wrote an absolutely heartbreaking article about how they were forced to file for bankruptcy.

It’s a shame, too, because Woolfe was clearly a labour of love, and a lot of good potential was lost here. I imagine if it had been given the time and care it deserved, it could have been a much better game. The good news is that the franchise was recently purchased by another studio, who have made good on the original developers’ promises, and those Kickstarter rewards got shipped out after all. Better late than never, I suppose. We can probably expect to see Red’s tale to continue sometime in the future, and hopefully it will be done right this time.

Nightfire's avatar
Featured community review by Nightfire (August 06, 2017)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access.

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honestgamer posted August 07, 2017:

This game looks so interesting, and I didn't hear about it until your review and screenshots showed up on the site. I agree that the art style is gorgeous, or seems to be, and you describe the mechanics in a way that makes them sound better than average, so I was a little surprised you settled on a 2 for the score. As far as I can tell, the big knocks against it are that it ends with a cliffhanger and the story comes off as convoluted. That doesn't sound so bad, but then, I'm not someone who tends to pay much attention to story, anyway.
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Nightfire posted August 07, 2017:

The story is not well presented, the combat tends to be on the flatter side, and the game is simply not complete. Three hours for a playthrough is actually generous; my Steam account logged 2.4. The "cliffhanger" ending occurs extremely abruptly, practically right in the middle of a cutscene, just as Granny is briefing Red on the next task she needs to do. There really isn't any closure for much of anything; it wasn't a good spot to end the game. Since the game is so heavily story-focused, that was a big detractor for me.

I also neglected to mention the awful stealth component of this game. There are a few sequences where it's a good idea to sneak past certain powerful guards that can kill Red with one hit, but really there's no point, because she can generally sprint past them without too much trouble anyway (there is no stamina mechanic). It was hardly worth mentioning though, because there were maybe two or three spots in the game where stealth was even a consideration. Either way, they added nothing to the game, especially considering Red's ultra-slow sneak speed.

I was considering giving this game 3 stars, but it would have just barely made the cut if so. It's simply not worth the asking price of $10 USD in its current state. I got it on sale for $3 and felt like I just barely got my money's worth.
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Zydrate posted August 08, 2017:

All your screenshots look like they could have been a CGI movie instead, honestly.

I want to look into it but I might find a Let's Play first to see what the actual game is.

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