Hands-On: The Forest Is An Admirable Project With Heaps Of Potential
I’m always on the lookout for talented indie developers and exciting new projects, and quite some time ago my eyes fell on The Forest from Endnight Games. Featuring prestigious developers with massive ambition, the game was working its away towards an early access alpha release. In February this year I conducted an exclusive interview with the developers and gleaned a ton of information that made this title one of my most anticipated for the year. After the early access finally launched on May 30, where you can get involved on Steam for $14.99, I was given the opportunity to dive in and see what Endnight Games has put together thus far. I’m pleased to say that the result has left me extremely excited for the future of this game, and in awe of the huge potential and promise that this project has.
The Forest is a survival horror title which puts you in the shoes of a character who crash lands on an island. Barely conscious, you witness the island’s mutant cannibal inhabitants kidnap your child. At least, I assume it’s the protagonist’s child. That’s pretty much the only story setup there is, and right from there you are thrown into the game aboard the destroyed plane, ready to survive. Right from this moment a multitude of options open up. As this is an open world title, you can pretty much go anywhere you want and there are absolutely no rules to follow. The only means of instruction you have is a survival book that gives you basic information and teaches you how to craft items and build structures. The game starts you out in a weakened state, encouraging you to learn on your own how to locate food, gather resources and arm yourself. There’s only so much daylight remaining after all.
I absolutely love a game that doesn’t spoon-feed you or order you around, and rather lets you discover the rules and how to play on your own. The Forest is exactly that, which is a big plus in my books. While the basic objective is of course to survive, the interview I conducted with the developers informed me that there are actually a finite number of cannibals on the island and you can seek to declare war and wipe them out. But the amazing part is definitely the depth of freedom that you have. When you start out you can choose to maybe try and survive in the plane with its preserved resources, or make your way out to the beach, or try to find an enclosed space to bunker down. While not available in the alpha, in the full game you’ll be able to swim, or build a boat, to get to adjacent islands to see if your luck fares better over there. Often developers will talk about how you define the way you play, but it takes a rare case like The Forest to demonstrate an idea of what that really means.
The Forest is a legitimate survival title, so you’ll need to keep things like hunger, sickness, cold and fortification in mind. When nightfall comes or when it’s raining, your character can begin to freeze, which naturally requires you to bunker down, build a campfire or a place to rest. There are many things to construct, and they often have tiered levels, from basic to advanced. You can build tools to hunt with, traps, defensive walls or cabin shelters, or even threatening structures made out of your enemies’ own body parts. The Forest features a vast map that can take you a long time to traverse on foot, and it surely gives the developers a lot of room to populate the area and add more to it as the game grows older. Resources are littered all over the environment, whether it be nature itself or locked luggage boxes from the crashed plane. Your primary tool is an axe of sorts, which can cut up plants, level trees, strike down animals and of course kill the cannibals. The alpha has a few additional tools such as a hatchet and a flare gun, and I’m sure more will be added as development goes on.
An easy mistake to make in The Forest is to assume that you’re safe during the day. The game quickly proves that you aren’t, and your enemies roam the island in the day just as they do at night, except according to the developers some of them retire to rest when the sun falls. The first time I encountered the cannibals they were just casually strolling in a small group in the distance, and I watched them with keen interest. Truthfully, The Forest features enemies that behave unlike anything I’ve seen in other games like this. When they spot you they don’t immediately just run up to you and flail at you. I’ve seen enemies observing me, climbing up trees to get a look at me, retreating when I spotted them, or hanging back in a semi-circle formation almost as if closing me off. Sometimes an enemy would break free from the group to launch one attack at me after regarding me as food, but often they took on an observer role, almost as if they were stalking me and sussing me out. Their aggression increased when I attacked, while when I ran some of them chose not to follow, and instead flee, while others engaged in a pursuit. It all helps to make the world feel very organic, and able to be influenced by you.
Of course The Forest is in its early alpha stage, and naturally it’s got plenty of bugs. I’ve played my part in sending a list of them to the developers. It’s easy to forgive them all, but perhaps the only one that is a letdown is the fact that you can’t save your game yet, and we’re awaiting a hotfix for that. The idea is that The Forest lets you carry on and save your game as long as you remain alive, and once you die you’ll have to restart from the beginning. So it’s the kind of game you can play for hours, but saving allows you to leave and return at a later date, and it’s done by building a simple campfire and calling it a night. I would love to really get into the game and see how I fare, but from the limited time I could play thus far I managed to survive four days on the island, where rather sadly I was put down by a silly fall. The other time, where I survived three days, I declared war on the cannibals and ended up dying to a large group of them. But a highlight would definitely be on my first playthrough, where I was fleeing the cannibals and ended up getting caught in one of their traps. I was strung up to a tree and left hanging there until they kidnapped me and brought me to their cave, where I then had to escape.
The Forest is absolutely gorgeous, and it isn’t actually that resource intensive despite its stellar visuals. The level of detail is excellent, the weather effects are a marvel and the sound is great. A certain highlight for me would be the realistic and incredible animation, which makes your enemies truly feel alive. And the speed at which they move is definitely really cool to see. While there are a number of visual bugs and some mistakes here and there that are easy to forgive due to the alpha stage, I’m certain that as development continues this game will just get even better, and I can’t wait to see it in all of its glory. The download size was surprisingly small, clocking in at just over 600mb. Fan feedback will ensure that the game gets better periodically, so I’m not too worried about the issues as it’s par for the course with early access. What I will say is that the game does seem really stable, which is pretty damn impressive. Apart from the known saving issue, I encountered no game-breaking problems in my playtime, and it’s been smooth sailing. That’s pretty admirable for a game of this size too.
The Forest is an exciting project from Endnight Games with massive potential. If you’re someone who doesn’t mind early access titles, I would strongly advise supporting this game and giving it a go, because it will absolutely surprise you. Otherwise the message would be the same as it always is for these kinds of games. Observe how development goes and read player feedback. But regardless of which option you choose, I would definitely encourage at least having this game on your radar.