Early Access Survival Game. That phrase alone is enough to strike terror into the hearts of gamers.
Look back over the last half-decade of the genre, and you’ll find a disconcerting amount of half-baked or fully abandoned projects littering digital vendors like a god-forsaken graveyard.
While the survival genre undoubtedly sparked alight like a cozy campfire out in the remote wilderness, only a few entries have managed to become a beacon in the dead of a frigid night. Chief among them is The Forest.
Bearing a moniker befitting of any grand survival game, The Forest is as vast, intimidating, and mysterious as its namesake.
Starting the player off in a manner familiar to most survival-based narratives, The Forest sees us whisked away to an unspecified North American forest as the suspected sole survivor of a disastrous plane crash. With nary more than a journal filled with objectives such as “ find Timmy” (your son) and “locate the other passengers”.
Apart from that, it’s just you and the wild. Oh, and cannibalistic mutants – did we forget to mention that?
The Forest treads a very fine line between the familiar and the unknown. No longer than your first night, your encounter with the native inhabitants paints a very bleak picture of what surviving in this new land will be like.
Gibbering, screeching, and nonsense-riddled cackling fills the air like a demented cacophony upon your first night in The Forest, and when the cannibals start to scope your encampment out en-masse, it’s clear that you’re going to have to become something other than a mild-mannered father-of-one to come out on top.
What sets The Forest truly apart from the rest of the pack is that it isn’t ashamed to add layers of gamification atop its somewhat-realistic setting. Killing birds will afford you with feathers, which can be added to weapons of your choice with tree sap to increase their attack speed. Conversely, you can add teeth that you obtain from slaying cannibals to your weapons to increase their attack damage. Macabre, we know – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you think that’s as dark as The Forest gets, you’d be sorely mistaken.
Once your player character’s sanity has dropped low enough – a charming feature for the whole family – you can adopt a particularly brutal method of deterring your errant nighttime visitors.
When the aforementioned sanity meter has been depleted far enough, another section of your survival guide opens up – entitled “effigies”. These effigies require one primary component: the limbs and flesh of your cannibalistic enemies.
What this boils down to, is that you find yourself hacking the limbs off of freshly deceased cannibals in order to erect horrendous constructs composed of said limbs to ward off your opponents. Oh, and to be more effective? You light them on fire.
There’s really nothing that can prepare you for the first time you lay eyes upon an encampment surrounded by immolated body parts arranged in grotesque patterns. And it only gets better from here.
While your relationship with the cannibals and their mutated kin will be the first thing that stands out, there’s plenty of variety in The Forest. The ecosystems bare as diverse a collection of critters as the biomes do – from crocodiles that are ready to sever your limbs off to Komodo-like dragons that scuttle across the forest floor – avoiding your best attempts to use their skin as a makeshift armour set. Not to mention the plethora of other animals such as birds and fish that exist solely to fuel your attempts at survival.
With so much to do between building up defences, launching attacks on the cannibals, spelunking through caves, decking out your combat kit, and searching for your son and the remaining passengers, it’s easy to forget that fatigue, hunger, and weather conditions are very much a part of the equation.
In the end, The Forest shows not only that early access games can be a good idea, but that a survival game need not bog itself down in overly-specific real-world metrics at the expense of creating a good video game.