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The Forest Preview

Posted by Stephen del Prado On Monday 28 July 2014Comments Off

Available on PC l Published and developed by Endnight Games l Classification TBA l Supports 1 player l Final release date TBA

Coming from four-person development team Endnight Games, The Forest is a first person horror game with a heavy dose of building and survival elements. Currently available in Early Access on Steam, it follows the template set by contemporaries such as Day Z and Rust while providing a different take on the gameplay found in those titles due to a focus on solo play. While showing promise in some areas, my time with The Forest has me concerned that certain elements of its design are at odds with one another.

…narrative is thus far one of the undercooked elements in The Forest.

To be perfectly blunt, I can’t say I’m fond of the particular brand of gameplay found in The Forest in principle, let alone practice. I’m a huge fan of narrative in games and much prefer a well planned story over ‘creating my own’, as is encouraged with the emergent gameplay/narrative currently present in this title. I say ‘currently’ because the game is still in public alpha and I have no doubt Endnight plan to provide some further story elements in future updates. However, narrative is thus far one of the undercooked elements in The Forest.

In the role of the unnamed male protagonist, I begin the game enjoying what turns out to be a short-lived flight with my son. Moments into the opening cutscene, the plane we are in plummets to the island on which The Forest takes place (I suppose calling the game The Island would’ve gotten a little to close to ‘Lost’ territory for ABC’s comfort). Shortly thereafter, the leader of the cannibals inhabiting the island appears to kidnap my son and leaves, after which the game begins proper.

At this point, there is only one option to proceed, so I collect items strewn about the plane, pick up the trusty orange axe buried in the back of the lone stewardess and disembark from the torn open front section. From here on, I tend to have very mixed experiences with the game, as it currently has no set end point apart from my death, which is something that can happen rather swiftly.

There are sessions where I’m able to steadily make my way around the island for a few days, building up resources and following the pseudo-tutorial which tasks me with building a fire and some shelter, hunting fish and lizards, and avoiding the cannibal patrols for as long as possible. In other instances, I leave the plane and only manage to make it 30 feet before a group of cannibals spawn out of thin air and attack, which at such an early stage always results in death.

As I’ve mentioned, the lack of narrative means that eventually I die after being attacked by the cannibals. Naturally, the time that this takes to happen depends not only on my skill but also the RNG nature of the game, which can see me make it a number of days before sighting my first cannibal, let alone being attacked by a group of them. The game continues to escalate the aggressive behavior of the AI, seemingly in proportion to the size of the footprint left on the island. If I build more defences and shelters, I have to be prepared for higher enemy numbers and more frequent attacks. Once the inevitable happens and I’m taken down, rather than the game ending right there and then, instead I wake up in the island’s underground network of caves, home to the Cannibals. This can give me a chance to escape, provided I can find the exit in the dark. This often means using the lighter to find my way, only to immediately wake up the sleeping cannibals surrounding me and die once more – this time the ‘true’ death, which requires a restart and another viewing of the opening sequence that, at this point, is unskippable. I can’t help but feel that this first/second death mechanic will tie into some section of narrative that will find its way into the game, but at this point it just feels unnecessary.

While the team has squashed many bugs, there are still many more to go…

When I’m feeling less inclined to tackle inbreeding cannibal mutants and monsters, as of patch 0.3, The Forest allows me to input a code removing all enemies from the game. This is dubbed The Calm Forest mode. While other building focused games such as Minecraft work well in this kind of ‘creation’ mode, there is so little on offer in terms of building options in The Forest that this kind of play soon becomes unappealing. Of the few items I can build, most of them solely function on the premise that I’ll be under constant risk of attack.  While keeping up my food intake is also a mechanic, I never feel at risk of starving during the regular game, let alone during a game sans foes. For me at least, The Forest simply can’t win, as I find it equally unappealing with or without enemies.

I will give credit where it is due however, and that is the consistency with which Endnight Games is updating The Forest, with a new patch incoming almost every fortnight. While the team has squashed many bugs, there are still many more to go, and some of them end runs through the game rather abruptly. While I mentioned spawning cannibal packs as one bug that quickly brings games to a grinding halt, my favourite death had to be from a now corrected glitch that would occur sometimes when performing a melee attack on a dead cannibal’s body. Rather than simply splitting the body apart, the impact also caused an explosion, blowing me into the air and across the map, killing me in the process.

While I wouldn’t personally recommend The Forest in its current state, it could definitely shape up to be something quite engaging in the future. Unfortunately, for fans of Day Z and Rust, the lack of any multiplayer in current or future versions of the game means that interactions with other human players, which are key to many of the most engaging situations in those titles, will never take place. My advice for anybody interested in The Forest is to check out some gameplay videos and read the forums before deciding whether it’s for you.

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