Full of engaging content and mysteries to uncover.
The Forest is the latest game developed by Canadian indie studio Endnight Games, which came out of Early Access and was released in its full version on April 30th. With a mixture of elements that range from first-person survival horror themes, to stealth-based mechanics, open world sandbox and mystery, The Forest poses a very interesting challenge and provides a well designed, engaging and complete experience.
My first couple of hours with The Forest were, to be frank, chaotic and aimless. We start with an opening cinematic in which we see ourselves comfortably seated in a commercial airplane together with our son, who’s fast asleep after reading a survival guide (wink, wink). The scene then gets ugly when the plane loses control and starts diving for a crash.
Cut to: we wake up (above all, we survived a plane crash for god’s sake) and we see our child (who also survived, mind you) being taken away by a crazy guy painted in blood and clearly from a native tribe.
The Forest is really The Island and it’s up to us to take back our son and learn what happened with the rest of the passengers, who were missing at the crash site. With little to no real tutorial, we’re left with a couple of instructions on how to use our crafting abilities and open our kid’s survival book for instructions on building different types of shelters, fires, traps and others.
As I said, my first hours with The Forest were chaotic. I didn’t know what to do apart from building a cabin and hunting animals for their pelts and meat and, of course, searching for useful items through the wreckage. I felt good chopping down trees, enjoying the well designed mechanics and animations, nice graphics and overall performance of the game. But after building my base and having supplies to last, I decided to investigate the island.
The Forest’s map hides many secrets inside caves, mysterious locations, abandoned camps and the (more frequent than I would’ve liked) encounters with the locals: a cannibalistic tribe of merciless mutant-like beings. Their quick movements, high resistance and tendency of traveling in groups made every sighting a thrill. I found myself hiding in bushes, covering myself with mud or crafting a special stealthy armor to avoid them finding me and having to engage in a fight that I was probably going to lose.
And I died so many times, used to open world games that are never really a challenge with enemies that drop like flies. Not with these guys. They mean business. The Forest’s tribe will hunt you down, and if you’re not prepared, you better stay away from them. At one point I had built so many traps that I felt cocky enough to lure them into them. I was wrong. They’re not idiotic AIs; they will dodge your traps and go straight at you.
And this is maybe the only element of The Forest that might make some players get frustrated. The combat system is hard, to say the least. Coming across a group of three enemies will prove to be not merely a difficult challenge, but more like an impossible task. You may land a couple of hits with your axe, club or by throwing a homemade Molotov cocktail, but they’re resilient and that will not be enough. Ultimately, if you die, once per game session you’re entitled to a “retry”. You’ll get dragged by the locals into a cave and hung upside down until you wake up and escape. You better save your game at a campsite, because if that happens again before you quit the game and load, you’ll be dead for good.
The Forest is full of nifty little secrets that it won’t give away very easily. For instance, while exploring a cave I found a pond and decided to jump into it and swim for a while. At the bottom of it I found an oxygen tank. What was it for? To refill a rebreather that was out there somewhere, just like so many other useful items that I never thought would be available in this game. I also found a VHS cassette tape. I’m still wondering where I’ll be able to find something to play that.
But the fact that there’s an endless amount of possibilities and paths to explore, modify items, ways to play the game, adapt it to our playstyles and make our story unique is what makes The Forest a special AAA indie game. There’s no one telling you where to go next or what to build to progress in the game. We’re really alone in this island and it’s our job to decide which are our priorities and how are we going to beat these mutant cannibals.
Another thing that’s interesting to analyze is the way Endnight Games approached what we could call “boss fights”. Although there are not actual boss fights, we do have cave exploration as a way of entering a closed space were we need to prepare ourselves for unavoidable encounters with enemies, were we’ll also most definitely find useful items and pieces of the story to put together.
Inside each cave there’s a tent with a small fire where we can save our game and go back to cook some food and regain health and energy. I personally used these to go back to after I’d cleared an area of a certain cave in order to save my progress and keep moving forward.
Overall The Forest is a very fun experience, a polished and neatly designed game and a very challenging title with lots of content and places to explore and mysteries to uncover while we ultimately look for our missing child. Its graphics are on par with a AAA indie game and the only bug I could personally find was when I wasn’t able to get rid of a shark’s head I grabbed along the shore. But hell, maybe that’s The Forest’s way of saying, “That’s what you get for putting your hand into a shark’s mouth”.