The Forest is a cracking survival-horror game that emerged onto Steam in Early Access a couple of months ago, and instead of playing it then, I decided to wait until July, which is traditionally a lovely quiet month, where AAA titles can be put to one side to allow for the sampling of exquisite indie treats and that backlog of games "that I've totally been meaning to play" can be trimmed down before silly season kicks off.
But then I (somehow!) convinced myself to play 50 hours of Watch Dogs. And then the Destiny beta turned up. And then The Crew beta turned up. AAAAARGH!
Even so, I'd wanted to check out The Forest for some time after having it recommended to me my several trusted colleagues and friends, and now I have. It's pretty damn good too.
Everything kicks off it Lost-meets-BioShock fashion. There's a plane crash, you land in a lush forest, it seems like you're the lone survivor, and right at the start you're introduced to a seemingly indigenous chap who carries off the only other passenger with you on the plane -- a young boy. The lack of passengers is probably an alpha thing, and therefore the presence of the young lad (Son? Nephew? Kidnap victim?) is clearly important. You probably have to save him as some sort of endgame objective.
As you'll see in the video, much of the early game is all about foraging for supplies -- rocks, sticks, food, etc. -- and fashioning yourself shelter and a fire. You've got a very handy survival guide that tells you exactly what you need to build structures and furniture, making the level of entry fairly low. But then it starts raining and your fire goes out and you can't find any sticks and you begin to freeze and you eat the wrong berries and die of food poisoning.
You survived 1 day.
You'll see that a lot, but it won't always be the environment in this lush paradise. More often than not, it'll be the natives. You won't see them at first, they'll be a flicker at the edge of your vision, far off in the undergrowth. I noticed a procession of them from across the beach I'd set my shack upon. They ignored me at first. But then later that night, men came with knives. I killed a few of them, but they returned in greater numbers, and I awoke to find myself in a dank cave, next to a pile of entrails, with a bunch of grotesque necromorph-esque creations in the next room.
It was about that time I ran for my life.
The Forest is unnerving and beautiful and a little empty. It's still highly unfinished, and there's much more to come, but there's something rather beguiling about it. The sense of isolation being the only human player in the game is enormously palpable at times, and starkly different to the likes of DayZ. There's a save system in place now, which is wonderful, and an enemy-free mode that allows you to explore the crafting system without fear of being munched by cannibals. That said, without that strange threat, the game reveals itself to be a little shallow at this stage.
The enemies really are genuinely creepy. They approach cautiously, almost as if they're as afraid of me as I am of them. The lack of communication instantly adds an element of fear and uncertainty to proceedings. Sometimes they'll stand and watch for ages, and it's difficult to get a read on what it is that they actually want. I'm not sure at this point if there's a way to communicate with them. There are effigies that you can build, presumably to try and ward off the cannibals, but I'd love it if there was some way of attempting to interact without necessarily having to resort to violence. There's a chance here for The Forest to do something really rather special, and I feel like the success of the final game will largely hinge on the AI and systems surrounding these naked strangers.
There's something at work with the player too. You can lay traps that'll slice and dice intruders in grotesque fashion, springing all sorts of nastiness on people that come too close. When you deliver a killing blow with the axe, bodies will tumble into a pile of limbs that can be saved for later to fashion the aforementioned effigies. It'll be interesting to see how much the game is affected by you, the player, becoming more and more monstrous in your actions, like a freeform Far Cry 3.
There's a lot of potential here, and The Forest feels significantly different to the likes of DayZ and Rust and their many clones and derivatives. A few weeks ago, I would have recommended steering clear, but with the new elements in -- the save system and peaceful mode in particular -- is worth a punt for curious parties. It's also a game that will really benefit from having an active player community engaging with it and delivering feedback. I for one can't wait to see how it turns out.