Surviving in The Forest: The top-selling PC game that proves there is still life in survival horror
After watching the world crash around you, you awake on a wrecked plane only to be greeted by a local wearing nothing but some leaves around his waist. Confidently, he looks into your eyes, picks up the child lying next to you and then turns around and leaves. Like it or not, you’re in his world now and you’re going to play by his rules.
In the space of two weeks, The Forest has gone from being a small blip on an ever-increasingly crowded indie radar to the number one selling game on Steam. To put that into perspective, Steam currently represents at least 75% of the online PC games market and The Forest was released within three days of the global launch of Watch_Dogs.
Like Watch_Dogs, The Forest is also mostly developed in Canada however it is the work of a team of ten people rather than a significant number of Ubisoft’s global workforce and keep in mind that Ubisoft have over 2,000 people in Montreal alone. That The Forest has been released under the Steam Early Access program and is in fact still in public alpha makes this even more impressive.
The premise is pretty simple. You and a small child accompanying you are the only survivors of a plane that crash lands on an island populated by cannibalistic tribesman and mutant abominations. The story behind the island and it’s occupants is yet to be explained but right now that only makes things even more intriguing. The Steam Community and other forums are presently full of discussions speculating whether this is all the result of decades of inbreeding, genetic experimentation or possibly something even worse.
The game is mechanically very similar to the likes of Rust but only from a single player and more focused perspective. It’s implied that the kidnapped child is your son but when you awake the choice of whether or not to pursue the kidnapper is left entirely up to you. Survival is the key and after briefly stopping to wolf down an airline meal and retrieve an axe from the corpse of an unfortunate flight attendant, you basically want to get your arse out of there as quickly as possible before more of the kidnapper’s friends arrive (and they will).
The axe soon becomes your best friend and is useful for everything from hunting wildlife and chopping down trees to fighting the hungry enemies who view every encounter with you in the same way that other people might view walking past a McDonalds. Wood is used to build camp fires, traps and rudimentary buildings in which to shelter from the elements and it’s vital to get build a dwelling for yourself as soon as you can. Pussying out in the plane wreckage isn’t really an option unfortunately and will just cause you to starve to death after you’ve finished off the last of the airline peanuts and plastic trays of left over dried out steamed vegetables.
As night time falls, the landscape changes and that’s when your enemies really come out to play. By far and away The Forest’s most impressive feature at the moment is the enemy AI. Endnight Games have bucked recent trends and created an entirely single player experience rather than the quasi-MMO approach of their rivals however the The Forest’s inhabitants are no less terrifying as a result.
When I first disembarked from the dilapidated cabin I was soon surveyed from the hills by a group of five who seemed to draw slowly closer and quietly observe me as I haphazardly smashed abandoned suitcases and pilfered the contents. Before long a ring leader had emerged, looked me up and down, stared at my axe and then let out a scream so piercing that I removed the Turtle Beach headset I was wearing at the time. I stood still and stared right back at him until he retreated into the distance but all the while his companions were climbing the nearby trees, swinging between branches and surrounding me from every direction.
This was perhaps the first time in a while that I have felt truly intimidated by a game. While they don’t quite feel completely realistic to the point of living and breathing, by carefully squaring up to me in this way, these enemies seemed far more unpredictable and dangerous than any I’ve witnessed since the pinnacle enemy AI of Killzone 2. Endnight have managed to succeed in an area where so many with multi-million dollar budgets have failed and have created rivals capable of competing in a violent and horrific form of virtual chess rather than just waves that charge foolishly in your direction.
Lastly, The Forest’s take on player death is another reason why the internet can’t stop discussing this game at the moment. Defeat in the wilderness will render a player unconscious and cause you to awake in the a darkened cavern that acts as the cannibal’s lair. It’s impossible to describe the caves in much detail without introducing spoilers but needless to say that the creatures and scenes that dwell within are likely to scare the shit out of even the most hardened player. There are rewards to be found for those with the guts to go exploring in the dark but in all likelihood most people are just going to want to escape as quickly as possible.
As an Early Access title, The Forest has it’s flaws at the moment and that is why I’ve opted to offer a preview here rather than a review. The game is a work in progress and the current build has a lot of issues with performance, collision and physics in addition to not including a proper save feature. The enemies are also extremely hard to kill right now and battles with two or more cannibals will almost certainly result in your demise. It’s likely that the finished product will be very different from what is on offer at the moment though and the readiness of the community to support this project speaks volumes.
After briefly dropping to number two when The Witcher 3 became available for pre-order, The Forest quickly regained the top slot in less than 24 hours, indicating that sales aren’t currently showing any signs of slowing. Impressively, the game seems to have additionally succeeded without relying on viral marketing support from certain well-known members of the YouTube community, something for which many other recent indie horror titles have faced criticism.
If Amnesia kicked off the indie survival horror renaissance then games like The Forest are doing a damn good job of continuing it into the new generation. The Forest takes elements of Minecraft and Rust and then puts a Cannibal Holocaust spin on them to create an experience that many others are likely to look to for inspiration in the near future. We will be back again with a full review when the game is finished but PC fans should take note that this is a game to watch and the community and industry-backed hype is only likely to increase as development continues.
This preview of The Forest is based on preview alpha code provided by Endnight Games. The available version at the time of publication was alpha v0.01b. The game is currently available on Steam via Early Access and the finished product does not currently have a confirmed release date.