The survival horror genre has evolved very quickly over the past few years. There are games without weapons, with complex puzzles to solve, limited tool usage, and main character development that aims to instill a feeling of complete helplessness in the player. The Forest takes all of these tropes and plays with them, bringing you helplessness based on being overwhelmed rather than unarmed, having fewer puzzles and more problems (there is a very important difference), and flipping the notion of “survival” into something that seems a bit more familiar, and thus potentially more terrifying.
The game begins with a plane crash which knocks you out (presumably killing most of the other passengers). You regain consciousness long enough to see your son being picked up by a strange, feral-looking man, and the next time you awake, you are alone amongst a terrific scene of wreckage. Gathering materials, keeping energy up, eating, finding/building shelter, and surviving on an unknown island are your priorities, and in addition, you’re being hunted by a group of cannibals, as well as other creatures that can only be described as mutants. To over-simplify, this is a more realistic and horrifying Minecraft with fewer build options. The creatures that hunt you are not mindless, nor without purpose. They think, they plan, and they’ve already killed everyone else who was on the plane, as well as other hapless people you discover as you explore. You can defend yourself with weapons, traps, and evasion, and must adapt to survive.
Being an Early Access title, The Forest has quite a few bugs that are being actively addressed by the developers (Endnight Games Ltd), and I encountered some, myself. The controls are very standard, but can sometimes betray you if you’re in an area that’s graphically demanding. There are familiar commands, just as using lights (“L” for the lighter you have on you at the time of the crash), picking up/using items (“E”), and the movement is standard WASD + mouse. Otherwise, everything works about as expected – just be aware that precision in some tasks is key.
The graphics, particularly for Early Access, are really good (as can be seen on the trailer). There are details such as animals crossing your inventory screen (which is a blanket spread on the ground, in-game), which are very cool. When you’re cold at night, ice crystals begin to form at the edge of your screen, indicating the urgency to build a fire. The graphics are not without issues, though. Bugs include the tendency for shelters built with logs to be limited to a certain “Y” axis (i.e. if you try to build a cabin on the beach, your structure will float higher than your head), and a particularly hilarious bug that I didn’t manage to capture on video, but featured the cannibals that were alarmed by my presence to run in place indefinitely. I had to hit them with my axe to get them to un-glitch, and even then, they would move several feet and then continue to do the the Running Man while the rest of the cannibals watched – waiting, I suppose, to see if they needed to come attack me or run away (I ended up dying of exposure while they stood there, debating). These errors detract from the immersion, but don’t make the game unplayable.
The Forest is currently in pre-alpha, available on Early Access via Steam for $14.99, and there are some definite redeeming qualities that make for an adventure game unlike any other I’ve personally played, despite the described bugs. I was suitably terrified and stressed, and I look forward to seeing how this game is improved, particularly with the addition of a proper game-save function and multiplayer options.