Survival is Harder Than it Seems in The Forest [Preview]
When the cannibals surrounded me, beating me down until my health was gone, I thought that was it. How often do your wake up after your health drops to nothing in a video game? Well, the preview of The Forest had one more surprise in store for me when I woke up, inventory intact, in a dark cave after I should have died. Little did I realize that I was about to see terrors I never would have expected of this open world survival/horror game, and that it would leave me sickened and questioning just what was going on in this lovely little place I’d crashed into.
Endnight Games’ The Forest dumps you on an island after a plane crash, having you wake up in the middle of the smoking wreckage and then leaving you to your own devices. Without saying a word, I knew that I had to find food and supplies if I was going to survive, but for how long? How would I find rescue or get off the island? Could I even do either of those? The game doesn’t bother to tell you in this build, which I liked because I found I didn’t feel like I had to work toward any immediate goal other than staying alive. That’s easier said than done, as you find out in a hurry.
I found out what I needed from a couple of handy things that were already present. For starters, anything that’s useful is highlighted with a white glow, and while that’s unrealistic, it helped me figure out exactly what I should be looking for without tiresome tutorials. I could pick up rocks, sticks, food, and other supplies right off the bat, and since they were shining, I knew to go get them and that I’d need them. After a few minutes of this, the game gets you to open a handy survival guide for you to look through – one that tells you what items you need to build the game’s various structures, weapons, and other implements. You also select those builds from that guide, too, but it was light reading, communicating everything I needed to know with a few pictures. I knew all I needed to learn about the game within moments from a few visuals. Any developer thinking of how to do a tutorial should take note of this game.
That being said, a manual would have been nice. It’s an early build right now, but there were a few commands that I just didn’t know how to execute. I could build a shelter, but I had to go through the community forums to figure out what button to press to sleep in it. A few other commands seemed unclear as well, so early access buyers might find themselves pretty annoyed when they try to figure out how to do some things. I doubt that will still be a problem later on, but putting in a list of which buttons do what is something so simple that it shouldn’t be a problem even now.
Anyway, you can build yourself some nice shelters with the stuff that’s just lying around your plane’s crash site. There’s all kinds of handy supplies to pick up right there, including suitcases full of energy bars for you to eat later. I quickly set up a little hunter’s shelter using some sticks, rocks, and logs, all of which were within a few feet of where I was. I could also gather leaves and build a fire, and lots of slow-moving lizards seemed to be wandering the area. I could kill them with a swipe of my emergency axe (God help you if you skip it for some reason when you get off the plane’s wreckage), providing me with food and armor. Things didn’t seem so bad at first. I’d practically landed in a survivor’s paradise.
Getting logs proved to be troublesome since I had to chop trees down to get them. It takes about as long to chop down a large tree with a small axe as you’d think it would, too, so expect to be at it for a while. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but exerting yourself costs you energy. It drains pretty fast if you do a lot of swings in quick succession, so chopping at a tree as fast as you can will quickly drain your energy until it doesn’t come back. You can eat to refill it or take a rest, but since I was chopping wood to build a shelter I could rest in, I had to go grab food instead. I’d greedily stuffed every airline dinner into my face before getting off the plane, though, and the lizards seemed to have wandered off. What was I to do? It was neat to have my camp, which had seemed so perfect before, become suddenly useless when I found out I was missing one thing. Your survival needs tie into each other quickly, and if you’re short on any one item, you’re typically completely screwed for a bunch of elements.
At this time, I had to decide whether to look for food or break out my supply of energy bars. Energy bars don’t need to be cooked unlike lizards and other food, though, so did I really want to bust out the only source of portable, instantly-edible food I had during the first twelve hours? After a few minutes of searching, though, it began to rain, and the game warned me that I was cold and wet and needed a fire. Do I keep pressing on and ignore it, or do I eat my emergency food already and just settle in by the flame?
The Forest was really good at eroding that comfort I’d initially felt. Somehow, I’d gone from having everything I needed to being in constant trouble within its first day. Overexerting myself led to lack of shelter and needing food, and then something as simple as rain meant that I needed to choose whether to starve or freeze, and all within minutes of starting. It doesn’t screw around, and that’s not even counting the fact that there are outside forces looking to cause trouble.
There are cannibals in the game, ones who have their own behaviors and routines. A certain time after I’d started, they’d come snooping around my campsite near the plane crash, coming to see what was what. I didn’t know if they were hostile or not at first, since they don’t rush in like regular enemies in games. They hovered around the outside, shining torches at me and looking around first. I was actually the first person who panicked when one got too close to me, and I ended up having to fight off two or three of them with my emergency axe. It was a tough fight, too, as they circle around you and surround you, hang back to make you chase them, and in general use numbers and their strength to their advantage. They are extremely intelligent and have a ton of health. They can be beaten and scared off, but not often by someone who’s tired, hungry, and cold.
As I said, they don’t instantly kill you when they put you down, either. Once you’re unconscious, they take you to a cave that is somewhere on the island, one I haven’t escaped all that often. If being attacked by cannibals in the night doesn’t have you a little nervous, then maybe seeing bodies hanging from the cave ceiling or a room filled with skulls, all lit by your steadily-failing lighter, might have you a little unsettled. Also, I soon discovered that the cannibals were some of the least strange things on the island while wandering those caves. There were some downright insane creatures in there, and in those poorly-lit caves, they’re pretty scary. The last thing I saw on one run was just a mass of arms, legs, and a twisted face when my lighter burnt out and I flicked it back on. All of a sudden, getting a fire going didn’t seem like that big of a problem.
You can build better equipment to protect yourself than I ever did, if you poke through that handy guide some more. Log cabins, spiked traps, molotovs, and much more are within your grasp if you have a good idea of what you want to do at the beginning of the game. These options make surviving a lot easier as you learn the game, and give you new things to strive for with every night you live though. Skilled players could probably carve out a nice little life for themselves on the island, if they felt like it.
In its current build, The Forest is quite complex, allowing for a nice survival game all on its own before the intelligent cannibals come in and make everything harder. A new peaceful mode is on its way in an update for those who just want to try their hand at the survival game on its own. That by itself was hard enough for me, but there’s just something about seeing those distant human shadows creeping around your camp that gave the game a much more powerful presence. Survival is hard, but knowing that smart, skilled fighters were looking to wreck your day makes everything tenser. When you see that sun setting, it’s scary, and not just because your shelter isn’t quite done or you haven’t got any food yet. You’re left wondering who’s going to come for you when there’s no light, and how you will fight it off while cold, hungry, and alone. Hopefully, you’ll survive longer than I did.
There’s a lot to keep balanced in The Forest, and it provides a tense survival experience because of it. You’re given all of the tools you could need to survive, but only if you have the skill and intelligence to use them right. For something in alpha, it’s in really strong shape; providing some difficult moments where I struggled to decide what I would risk to live. The frightening cannibals and their monstrous allies only made it that much harder and more satisfying for me as a horror fan, resulting in some scary moments when I looked out and saw myself being surrounded. I think it will really be something special when it’s done, and I’m already having a great time with the game as is.
The Forest is available for $14.99 on Early Access from Steam.