I’m sitting in an aeroplane, my son Jimmy by my side. It’s oddly quiet at the moment but I don’t make much of it—the passengers are probably asleep. In a few blurred moments we hit some turbulence, and we start going down. My PC poorly renders our descent until I black out. I wake to a very nude mutant chap drooling over my mangled body. We’re in the wrecked plane and Jimmy is being dragged away. Inconveniently I pass out again.
The welcome to The Forest is short, brutal and a little bit harrowing. You are the sole human survivor of a plane crash on an island inhabited by tribes of mutant cannibals. You simply want to stay alive. All other ambitions have been obliterated—your thoughts must turn to the island’s resources and the decision to either confront or hide from the indigenous predators.
The Forest is Minecraft meets Amnesia: The Dark Decent. In its sandbox world, the player can build a home anywhere on the map using wood from felled trees, and a crafting feature is available, allowing players to produce life-saving tools by combining resources scattered throughout the forest. Being a horror game, all of your efforts invariably lead to a pant-shitting moment, thanks in part to the natives’ fantastic AI. Motivations between tribes differ depending on their religious leanings, changing the way they interact with you upon every new encounter. Some will be cautious of you, and run off to gather support. Others will rush fearlessly and twat you in the face with their fists, axes or burning torches. Some natives will even climb and jump between trees, and attack you as a group using coordinated tactics. In my time with the game, I genuinely felt like I was being hunted.
The island itself is a beautiful place teeming with dynamically animated fauna and flora, making the forests feel alive and densely populated. Combat, meanwhile, is weighty and visceral, and manages to reflect the realism of the environment without compromising on speed or chaos.
The Forest is currently available for players to purchase through Steam’s Early Access service. For those not in the know, you can now buy access to incomplete games and reap the associated benefits. Early Access titles are cheaper, they can be played earlier, and you can enjoy taking part in the projects as they evolve. Developers receive funding from sales to complete their games, allowing indie studios in particular to take ambitious gambles. The gamers operate as a wide-scale bug testing team by reporting any glitches or imbalances they find, but they can also submit original content-related ideas that might make it into the final release.
Having been on the market for just over half a year, the game has seen nine major updates since launch, the most recent of which introduces two-player co-op, a feature much lacking in the original release. Whilst the isolation of single-player lends itself more readily to horror, having a friend there to orientate you in the wilderness is extremely gratifying. As a lone player I often lacked the drive to finalise any of my projects because the end-game is conspicuously absent at the moment, but this issue will be resolved with subsequent updates. With a second player, however, the quest for survival feels like an adventure with a purpose.
Aside from the entertainingly buggy state of the co-op, which provoked my fellow survivor into moon-walking across the island like a crack-addled Michael Jackson, there is plenty of fun to be had here. Spelunking the depths of the island’s native-infested caverns with eighties pop blaring through your tape players (yes, they are in-game items) is one of many stand-out highlights.
Anybody setting foot in The Forest should expect an adrenaline-pumping, fast-paced and genuinely scary game. They should also prepare themselves for the occasionally frustrating, potentially session-ending bug, something that should be forgiven during its alpha phase. If you like the idea of participating in a game’s developmental process, and if you have the patience to see past the rough edges, you might as well splash on your war paint and enter The Forest now.