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  • Writer's pictureJames Stephanie Sterling

Gangs Of Sherwood - Shitwood Forest (Review)

Gangs of Sherwood

Released: November 27th, 2023

Developer: Appeal Studios

Publisher: Nacon

Systems: PC, PS5, Switch, Xbox X/S

Gangs of Sherwood can’t even get ladders right. You clip through ladders with a harsh shudder before the climbing animation kicks in, and if there’s no solid ground rendered behind said ladder, you can pass through and take falling damage.

I thought I’d kick us off with that little quirk, just to give you an idea of what this ostensibly cooperative third-person action game is like. I say the co-op is ostensible because, to the surprise of only the developers, almost nobody is playing this thing. On the very rare occasion I did find a second player, the game became likely to crash.

Sherwood has been built on the idea that players would team up in gangs of four, which proved impossible to achieve while playing, as did a gang of three. To date, I’ve only been able make a "gang" of two, and throughout the whole campaign I was only able to successfully complete two full levels with a second player.

Against all reason, I was eager to try this thing out. This is despite the telling fact that trailers on its PlayStation Store page contained entirely zero gameplay clips. Sadly for me, I’m a sucker for “what if what but what?” conceits, and “what if Robin Hood but Steampunk?” was a promising enough elevator pitch.

Whatever the narrative is behind this concept, I cannot tell you. I can’t say because I didn’t give enough of a shit to retain the information. Not one moment of it was interesting.

Here's what you need to know about the plot: because of reasons, technology has happened and now there are big machines running around with anachronistic abandon. The Sheriff of Nottingham rules England because he’s Robin Hood’s iconic arch enemy and this game is painting with strokes so broad they could plow snow. Maid Marian is also his daughter, further ensuring as rudimentary a story as humanly possible.

There are four playable characters - Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, and Little John. The first two are quick and have ranged attacks, the second two are slow heavy hitters. No matter who you pick, movement and combat will feel sluggish and awkward. Gangs of Sherwood plays as if Devil May Cry were made out of cereal boxes and stupidity.

You mostly button mash your way through linear levels, routinely unable to perform more intricate combos because enemies surround you and fucking spam unblockable multi-hit attacks that cannot be interrupted. In fact, so much damage is unblockable you’ll soon forget you have a shield. Most fights are brainless and repetitive affairs interspersed with spikes of fake difficulty where the level of onscreen and offscreen enemy spam is as ludicrous as the nonsense in Forspoken.

One has to stress that, spikes aside, Sherwood isn’t very hard. Its boss fights are some of the most pathetically easy I’ve ever seen. With mostly mindless button smashes you’ll get through this very short game in a few hours.

By far the biggest challenge comes via an utterly broken target locking system. Your character will automatically lock onto an enemy when combat starts, but the lock-on suffers from such extreme ADHD that the target keeps changing. You’ll even switch targets in the middle of attacking, suddenly turning away from the nearby enemy you were fighting to ineffectually lunge at some wanker stood ten feet away.

That this shitty product has the fucking nerve to grade your combat effectiveness as if it were a Platinum game is just salt in the wound. Gangs of Sherwood ain’t in a position to judge anybody else’s performance.

Obviously the game is buggy and full of wonky physics. Sometimes the attack button just stops working. Ranged attacks are on a weird delay immediately after a dodge roll where trying to do them just makes you perform melee attacks. As I noted earlier, but must reiterate because it’s so dumb, finding a rare co-op partner for this co-op game seems to increase the likelihood of it crashing.

It’s not as if co-op play is even good. A few areas with bonus gold are accessible only to certain characters, but that’s literally the only way in which multiple players is a benefit. In fact, co-op can actually be a pain, since there are chests that provide passive bonuses for the duration of a level and most chests contain a single one. Whoever gets there first gets the upgrade, which sucks with two players and must be a nightmare in the parallel universe where teams of four are possible.

Despite the artistically promising concept, Gangs of Sherwood resembles an incredibly generic fantasy game with dated graphics and shithouse animations. The voice acting is dreadful, reminiscent of D&D players who half-commit to putting on a voice because they feel awkward performing silly characters in front of their friends.

Marian in particular is unpleasant to listen to. Her actor is doing the kind of faux-posh snarky voice that gets under my skin even when it’s done well, let alone when it’s drunkenly slurred with disaffected contempt.

Graphically... just look at the screenshots. These were the best I could get. When these muddy blurs are all moving, they look a little bit better, but even at their best the graphics are rather hideous. Environments are plain, character models move like they're made out of wood, and there are so many bad visual effects the screen clutters up whenever a fight starts.

I think the game has music.

Miniboss encounters against the Sherrif’s extended family of Nottighams really emphasize Sherwood’s lack of artistic merit. Despite each Nottingham getting an intro scene and big ol’ health bar, not a single one of them is a unique enemy - as soon as you’ve fought one, their character model will start appearing regularly as a slightly elite mook. Hell, a few of the Nottinghams themselves are almost identical to each other.

Between missions you’ll be in a tiny hub area where merchants take exorbitant amounts of gold in exchange for new combo attacks, abilities, and modifiers that change the behavior of a character’s signature move. Later on there’s a cosmetic merchant whose shop menu teasingly shows not only the deluxe edition costumes regardless of the version you had, but the preorder costume as well, just to be a cunt.

Frankly I think it’s adorable this game has a deluxe edition and launch day DLC. It’s a level of arrogance so underserved as to be cute.

Like I said earlier, Sherwood is a brief affair. Beyond the prologue stage are three acts with three levels apiece, each one taking maybe 20 minutes to complete, and a single optional boss stage. Upon finishing the story, you can unlock an endless combat mode and a boss rush, but really, who the fuck would subject themselves to more of this bollocks?

Gangs of Sherwood surprised me by rolling its credits a few short hours after starting, but it wasn’t the brevity I found surprising - it was the fact people were willing to attach their names to what they’d done. As much as I believe in due credit, if I’d have been involved with this game I’d have asked to remain anonymous.

By selling Gangs of Sherwood, Nacon is robbing from the gullible and giving to the inept. I’d have worked on a better closing analogy, but this game isn’t bloody worth it.



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