The Forest May Be in Alpha but is Conceptually Rewarding.
The Forest initially piqued my interest as it featured on various “Top horror games of the year” lists. Images associated with these posts gave it the sort of creepy, run-and-(try to)-hide vibe that you want in a horror title. So when the Steam Summer Sale suggested getting into The Forest‘s open alpha for an 80% discount, I jumped at the chance.
Loading screens in the game itself stress the fact that The Forest is still in alpha. It sort of feels like the friend who gets up on a karaoke stage and starts with “I’m not very good at this, but…” before belting out something semi-professional. This is the case with The Forest. Sure, some of the features are locked out and there are a few bugs here and there; as a concept, however, the game is exceedingly strong.
The Forest Gameplay
The player takes the role of the sole survivor of a plane crash. When you regain consciousness, the first thing you see is a native walking away with the body of your son. The action centres around the player’s attempts to survive on the island between having nothing, the weather, and attacks from the cannibals that stole your child.
As a first-person exploration/construction game, The Forest‘s controls feel similar to another Steam title, Rust. Readers may have already seen me refer to The Forest as the love child of Amnesia and Minecraft.
Essentially, the player spends a lot of time running around and hitting things with his or her axe. Chopping down trees, collecting leaves, and scavenging for food. Currently, with so many features locked out, gameplay is quite linear. Set up small initial camp, find preferred location, build house.
Endnight Games had the foresight to put custom walls, doors, and windows into The Forest relatively early. What this means is that the construction aspect can be fleshed out as much as the player desires. This warps the game somewhat once a player becomes adept at dealing with cannibal attacks. It represents a shift in the power; when a player reaches the point where he or she can freely (and safely) construct a house, there is little or no threat from the antagonists. Which, in turn, makes them about as scary as Minecraft‘s Creeper.
Currently, there isn’t much of an objective other than survive. The game measures success by how many days your character lived so there is no real drive within the game to urge the player to do anything other than bunker down. I did notice that how many of the other passengers’ corpses I found was being counted so perhaps this is something Endnight hopes to change down the track. I’m not entirely convinced that the son is dead and perhaps finding him will feature prominently.
The bunker down ethos is not entirely flawed, however. When you are first discovered, the attacks may only consist of one or two cannibals. But they do come back in force. A small torch in the distance showing a pack of five hunting for your half-finished log cabin? Certainly takes your mind off finding the other passengers.
It may seem funny that I have spent so long talking about what you do in The Forest and not really dealt with the horror aspects yet. As I said at the outset, I was drawn to this game because it looked scary and came with a similar reputation.
What’s really interesting about The Forest is that it doesn’t try to scare the player as another horror game might. Outlast has corpses falling from ceilings, Dead Space has seemingly-dead zombies jumping up, and Silent Hill has Pyramid Head sneaking up on you. Because the world of The Forest is so open, you may spend the entire day without anything spooky happening. But you know the threat is there. Once you are set up with fires protecting a large house in an even larger camp, the threat, and thus most of the scariness, is diminished. When starting out with barely a few sticks and some leaves to shelter you and a small fire nearby, the threat is very real.
The success of The Forest‘s cannibals is owed in no small part to the environment. This is something I’ll get into later but sufficed to say Endnight has created a world that is a treat to play in. Yes, some things need to be sharpened up but that’s neither here nor there. The nights are pitch black unless you introduce a source of light. The sound effects can be a bit loud (I suggest turning down the volume quite a bit); they don’t fully mask the footsteps of the cannibals but there is a degree of uncertainty. Because the hurried footsteps coming at you is your primary defence against an attack, this balance is critical and has been done with aplomb.
This is where The Forest truly shines. Probably quite fitting considering its name. Of course in this era, graphical wizardry is dime a dozen so there won’t be bonus points given out despite the beauty of the landscape. In The Forest‘s current iteration, there are still bugs related to sound. For example, when cut down, you will hear the tree falling and hit the ground before it even starts wobbling. Those aside, I have no complaints about the direction Endnight has taken visually and aurally.
What makes the environment such a treat is, as I said before, the night time. Yes it can be a pain trying to see with only the flame from a lighter. But games are here to challenge as well as entertain us and ensuring adequate visibility in your camp site is one of your responsibilities. The lack of light works wonders by allowing you to see faint glimmers from a cannibal’s torch in the distance. It really gives that sense of dread and brings the open world’s walls in around you.
The Forest really has struck a gorgeous balance as far as its world is concerned. The world is large but the enemies are plentiful (or at least spread out). Rivers provide good security from attacks but are slow and treacherous to traverse without proper preparations. More than the aesthetics of it, these small choices that Endnight has made really did tip the scales as far as The Forest was concerned for me.
The Forest still has a long way to go. With a few bugs and some things requiring a bit more polish before being ready, it does need more time. Having said that, for a game in alpha, I am more than impressed.
Endnight Games are making the correct decisions where they matter most: at the conceptual level. Personally, I don’t care if the trees are purple so long as there is a reason for it being so; and I am becoming increasingly convinced that The Forest has solid reasoning behind everything it is doing.