Buying games that are in Open Access on Steam can sometimes prove to be a risky decision. Some can be surprisingly pleasant, and offer countless hours of enjoyment (Starbound springs to mind), while others can leave you wondering why you even considered buying them in the first place (War Z for one). The latest of these Open Access titles is The Forest, a survival horror game going for roughly £11 on Steam. After my strenuous exams I thought I deserved a little treat, so I picked The Forest. I was met with a game with significant potential, and although it’s only v.0.02, it’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable than some fully released titles.
It all starts off like this: you’re on an aeroplane with a child sitting beside you, (who on Earth this child is hasn’t been elaborated upon yet, but hey, it’s an Alpha game, I’ll let it slide), the plane crashes and you wake up to see the islands residents, cannibalistic mutants, dragging away the little child. You gain control of your character and must survive on this island by chopping down trees, scavenging for materials and crafting a base to avoid the ruthless mutants.
I’m sure you’re thinking: “this sounds like a Minecraft ripoff!” You couldn’t be further from the truth. You can craft walls, items and houses, sure, but The Forest has a lot that Minecraft lacks.
The mutants make this game. They are terrifying. You have few methods of defending yourself; you have axes and various weapons you can craft, like Molotov cocktails. But these aren’t any normal (if there is such a thing) mutants, they’re mutant cannibals, and they’re damn strong. It can take 12 swings of an axe to bring one down, they’re nimble enough to avoid thrown projectiles, and even if you have stamina left after the battle, reinforcements will likely arrive soon, leaving you overwhelmed.
You fear the mutants. You actively hide from them. Sometimes they see you and circle around you without attacking, surveying you, assessing you. It’s in these moments where you slowly back away, hoping to whatever God you believe in they don’t all swarm you in a coordinated attack. In a game where death is permanent (after your second “death” anyway), you want nothing more than to hide from them. You’re weak, and the game lets you know that. They drag away their fallen comrades, and the females mourn the death of their friends. Although you are only defending yourself, The Forest does a great job at convincing you that you’re merely a trespasser in these people’s lives, adding to the immersion of the game.
You’ll find yourself in this situation more than once.
For an Alpha release, the attention to detail in the artwork is phenomenal. The developers have a background in VFX, which explains why this game looks so great. Bushes sway swiftly in the wind, moving aside as you walk through them, the gloriously detailed trees are thick and plentiful, giving The Forest a sense of denseness to it. Even a decent computer will have some trouble smoothly running this game, though this is might just be down to poor optimisation during the Alpha release.
The visuals aren’t the only thing that stand out to me, the audio in this game just as good. In the same way the Battlefield series is known for its phenomenal sound in the shooter genre, The Forest should be equally respected for its sound in the survival genre. Every sound of the axe, ranging from chopping down a tree to striking a mutant round the face is incredibly satisfying, hauling logs and placing them onto your shelter provides a lovely thudding sound, giving you a sense that you’re actually building something. Coupled with the visual progress being shown whenever you place materials on any contraption you’re building, you really feel like you’re actively surviving on this island, building whatever you can to keep yourself alive.
All of this together leads to a terrifying sense of immersion. Even opening up your inventory proves to be a surprise, you see all your collected items sprawled on a mat in front of you. The mat becomes progressively more cluttered the more you collect, and more bare the less you have. Little things like this, coupled with large things like the graphics and audio give The Forest a sense of immersion that games like Minecraft don’t have. Crafting is probably the only similarity the two games share.
The game truly does look beautiful, even in its early stages.
There are no shortage of crafting blueprints, you can build noose traps to secure your base from cannibals, to effigies built from mutant limbs to ward off enemies, letting them know that they’re in your territory now, and with the release of v.0.02, rafts to get across large lakes (although rafts were introduced without sails, which seems kind of pointless to be honest, but hey, it is still early days). Custom building blueprints are also abundant, allowing you to build your base as you want it. Want a heavily fortified fort with spiked walls for defences? Knock yourself out. Or maybe you’d opt for building traps everywhere, hidden in the dark forest to lure your enemies into. The forest is quite literally your playground (until you get mauled by the residents that is).
The game world itself is also vast. It takes a solid while to walk from one end of the forest to the other, and if you wonder too far off, the game informs you that the area is not available yet. However, the developer has stated that more areas will be released, so those snowy, huge mountains in the distance? Yep, we should be able to travel to them as development of the game progresses. I’m excited just writing this of the potential of this game.
The fact that this game is basically in its foetal stages at the moment does mean it has its fair share of problems. Swapping from a Molotov cocktail to anything else in your inventory immediately drops the Molotov at your feet, setting you alight. Chopping up dead bodies for effigy materials also sometimes kills your character, as if he got knocked down by the flying head send towards him. Camouflage doesn’t seem to do much, clipping problems with character models are abundant, and the lack of a story may lead some people to get bored of the game quite easily. Okay, I’ve built a near impenetrable fortress, now what?
The biggest problem for me is that fire is incredibly overpowered in the game, completely destroying any sense of immersion. This will most likely be fixed. At the moment, all it takes is one shot with the easily found flare gun to bring down any enemy in the game, and with the infinite ammo glitch easy to perform, if you opt to use the flare gun, the horror aspect of the game is virtually non-existent. But again, this is only v.0.02, this will most likely be patched soon bringing back the sense of hopelessness against the cannibals.
It all boils down to this, are you willing to spend a tenner on a game that you’ll get countless hours of enjoyment from, but are willing to put up with the insane amount of bugs and glitches? I know what my answer was, and seeing the potential of this game is even more incentive to buy it, and support the developers help create a survival horror game to remember.
The Forest is available on Steam Early Access for £10.99