There’s something quite enticing about a game that opens in disaster. Cue the opening of Bioshock; a man enjoying a cigarette on the plane, some brief turbulence, and then a nose dive into the Atlantic Ocean. Quick, poignant, and unexpected. In the aftermath, only the allure of mystery remains. The Forest opens in a similar manner, but adds a father’s horror of having his child aboard the plane, and then watching a naked man take your child from the plane’s wreckage.
Survival horror games have flooded the market over the years, making it all too difficult to separate the good from the bad. But this week, one of the best survival horror games has announced that it will be leaving early access nearly four years after its alpha release on May 30, 2014. The team at Endnight Games released a hilariously broken and entertaining alpha product, but has been slowly and meticulously improving The Forest for the last four years. It now stands as a creative and terrifying experience.
The earliest moments of the game allow you to believe that you’re alone on the island. As in-game time passes at roughly an hour per minute, players will often go a few days without witnessing anything unusual on the island. Using the survival guide book that your son was reading before the crash and kidnapping, players will construct shelters of all shapes and sizes. Ranging from a one time use lean-to up to a multi-floor cabin with defenses and traps. These first few days are, for the most part, uninterrupted giving players the chance to construct as small or large of a homebase as they would like.
However, during this time, the observant player may notice odd noises and movement in the trees as they are watched from afar. The island is a mysterious place filled with abandoned campsites, shipwrecks, and a hidden research facility, but most importantly, cannibals. There’s a tribe of cannibals that has existed on the island for as long as anyone can remember, and they are a terrible nuisance. They start by watching from the treetops and the brush, being cautious to keep their distance. But players would be advised to remember that the tribe is simply observing the behavior of their three-course meal. As they become more accustomed to your presence, so too do they become more confident, approaching you in groups of three or four. They stand just out of your reach, sizing you up, waiting for night to fall where a stranger to the island would be disadvantaged.
Naturally, players will want to craft weapons in order to protect themselves, but as soon as you’re seen as a threat, they’ll come for you in droves. For early players who haven’t yet had the opportunity to stockpile weapons and supplies, this is a quick way to meet an untimely end, leaving your poor son Timmy to his unknown fate. Fortunately, the cannibals won’t always kill you. Instead, they’ll drag you off to one of their caves, hang you from the ceiling, and wait to bleed you dry.
Should you be lucky enough to end up in the cave instead, you can cut yourself loose, retrieve a few key items like the island map, and escape. But once the cannibals know you’re aggressive, there’s no going back. They’ll regularly come for you, making the game more and more difficult. Fear not young survivor, should you so choose, you can train (most of) the island’s cannibals to consider you harmless, though it takes a lot of time and patience to achieve.
The island is also home to a wide variety of wildlife including rabbits, monitor lizards, deer, and fish. Hunting them gives you valuable meat and skins to use for clothing, armor, and larger sacks to carry more resources. Armor in particular will become a crucial item as you progress into more difficult areas of the game. Crafting the right hunting tools, such as the bow and upgraded spears, will also give you a tremendous advantage in harvesting crucial resources from your prey.
But there is a deeper story waiting to be discovered. For players who want to treat The Forest as your typical survival game, testing your survival skills to see how long you can last, that option exists. However, the game’s greatest merits are found within the interconnected system of caverns that lie below the surface of the island. The caves below hide pictures, VHS tapes, and beings that allude to the island’s true nature. Players who choose not to venture into the depths risk missing out on the best parts of The Forest. Discovering new enemies in caves will prompt them to make the occasional appearance on the surface, making your exploration far more deadly.
For anyone who began playing The Forest when the alpha was first released, it would be understandable that they would not want to return to the island. Like all early access titles, The Forest was riddled with bugs when it first became available. Any time players killed a bird for food or feathers to craft arrows, a new bird would arrive and land in the exact same spot as the deceased one, leaving piles of dead birds in the same spot. In the earliest days of The Forest, infinite resource farming operated as a feature more than an exploit. Physics would break, launching players into the air after striking environmental pieces. Normally, harvesting turtles would result in players retrieving generic meat and a turtle shell, but in the early days, players would simply pick up the entire turtle; an unusable object that would sit in player’s inventory.
But these days, the game is working fantastically. Endnight Games has been incrementally adding new sections and story items to the game with each new update, as well as fixing bugs. Throughout the early access period, Endnight has added a research facility, sharks, additional creatures and building options, but most importantly, a hosted multiplayer mode where players can begin a cooperative story playthrough. As of now, the most recent game update was version 0.73, and has a full campaign and a nearly complete ending. It’s taken a long stretch of time, but if Endnight Games can remain consistent in the quality of development, the upcoming launch of The Forest version 1.0 will have some great surprises for players both new to the game, and those who have dared to enter it before.
It’s easy to lose interest in anything that has stayed in early access for four years, but The Forest has proven to be one of those rare instances where the early access process has been mutually beneficial for both consumers and developers. Endnight has said that when the game releases in April, there will be significant optimizations to single player and multiplayer modes, additional incentives for playing aggressively, and news on a possible VR mode. The Forest is priced at $14.99 right now and will go up to $19.99 when version 1.0 launches in a few months. But if the game’s current state is any indication of the final product, you should close this article and go purchase your copy before the price goes up.
The Forest will be launching in Spring 2018 for PC, with a PS4 version rumored to follow later this year.