It seems like every time I look at the front page of Steam I see a new survival game that’s in Early Access. Very few have gathered as much buzz as quickly as Endnight Games’s The Forest, most likely due to the stellar trailer and the ever increasing popularity of the survival game genre. Is The Forest worth taking the $15 plunge in its alpha state or should you wait until more substantial content has been added? After playing the game for a few hours, I would recommend holding off for a while.
You start a new game of The Forest from the first-person perspective of your character on an airplane. You look over and see a child (presumably yours) asleep on your shoulder. Shortly after, your plane unexpectedly starts to plummet to the earth and the front end of the plane is ripped off. After the visually striking crash, your character regains enough consciousness to see the child that was asleep at your arm – dead or knock out – carried off by a creepy looking man with very little clothing. You then fully regain consciousness, hungry, tired, and confused, and you set off.
There is no other setup other than that – not even a tutorial. The first thing I decided to do was search the wreckage of the airplane for supplies, as little warning messages kept popping up in the corner telling me that I needed sustenance and medicine. I found an axe and a few little snacks and drinks. Every time I collected something, the messages told me that I had added it to my inventory. Through my power of deduction, I realized that there was an inventory button, and I hit the usual suspects, starting with B (backpack in World of WarCraft) which opened up a survival guide. I was relieved because this acts as a manual of sorts. It gave me a basic guideline to get started, telling me that I should use the blueprints that are in the manual to build a shelter, which saves the game and refills your energy when you sleep at it.
I clicked the blueprint for the basic shelter in the survival guide and a little template popped out onto the world that I could move and rotate until I locked it into place. Once in place, I had to search for materials to build it – logs, sticks, leaves, rocks, etc. About halfway through building the shelter, it seems that a couple of creepy looking people came to check out the plane crash. They were scoping me out at first which made me uneasy. One of them ran up into a tree to get a better look, while the other remained cautious and kept his distance. I’m not one to back out from a challenge, so I took the axe from the plane and cleaved the one on the ground in the face. He didn’t seem to like that so he started to defend himself. Where his friend was, I have no idea, but he got a great view of me completely murdering his friend. After he was dead, I chopped his body parts up and collected them.
These crazy people learned not to screw with me when I’m stressed.
Once that one guy was dealt with and I made sure his friend wasn’t going to attack, I decided to start to rebuild my shelter in a safer spot, thinking that more of these people would come to investigate the plane crash. Once I set the template down again, I went in search for rocks and twigs. I cut down some trees (which was cool at first, but got tedious the more I had to do it) for logs. It didn’t take too long for my shelter to get built, so I decided to build a fire since that was the next thing the survival guide recommended me to build. Again, building the fire went off without a hitch. I was then getting the warning that I needed to sleep or eat something to refill my energy, so I slept.
I awoke in the pitch blackness of night. It was impossibly dark – literally could not see anything. I lit my fire (apparently I have a lighter with unlimited fluid) and that gave me a little bit of light. I didn’t know what else to do, so I went off in search of food – the game was telling me that I was hungry. I found some berries, tried them, and grunted. Apparently they were toxic (something, I learned later, that was explicitly stated in the survival guide). I used my axe to kill some birds, but the game wouldn’t let me pick them up for some reason. After a few minutes of searching for food (and failing), I was attacked by those people again. They weren’t too hesitant on attacking me this time, so I ran back to my fire where I could get a better look at them. Fortunately for me, these people aren’t very smart, and they kept stepping into my campfire, setting ablaze, and dying after a few seconds. I killed about 6 or 7 people this way. I went ahead and chopped all of their bodies apart and collected their limbs and heads, too. You know, just to be safe.
It started raining after that, so I couldn’t leave my campfire without the game telling me that I was dying of hypothermia. So, to kill some time, I built an effigy comprised of all the body parts I had recovered. While it doesn’t explicitly say what the effigy does in the survival guide, I assumed it would scare off attackers. It didn’t. They seemed to pay no mind of the statue made from the body parts of their fallen brethren. After I slaughtered more people that were attacking me, I attempted to sleep again to make it bright enough to search for food more thoroughly (as again, it was impossible to see in the dark). I got it bright enough and I set off in search for food. I found an abandoned yacht with some food in it, so that lasted me a while. I also found a spear which allowed me to harpoon fish that I was able to cook.
That was kind of everything that I was able to do in the game from what was available. There were traps and buildings I could make, but they required a ridiculous amount of supplies and I didn’t have the patience to gather them since gathering them was very, very tedious. So I fought some more crazy people with my campfire and kept harpooning fish until I got bored and just decided to go kamikaze through the woods. I found a campsite that was clearly ambushed by the crazy people. I didn’t find anything of particular interest in the forest. I don’t know if it’s in the game yet or if it will ever be, but I was unable to find any form of story advancement. I made seemingly zero progress at finding the whereabouts of the kidnapped child.
After a little while searching, I stumbled on a camp of a bunch of those crazy people. I knew I couldn’t take them all on without my trusty campfire, but I got bored and wanted to see what would happen if I died, so I attempted to take them on. I lost, but I was surprisingly not killed. I was apparently knocked unconscious. When I awoke, I was in a super dark cave with some more of those crazy people. This was actually legitimately frightening and unsettling, until I got stupid with it (as I am wont to do) and attempt to fight them all again. I was killed, and it told me I had survived for 7 days.
The Forest starts strong, but you quickly reach the limits of what you can do in the alpha version. In addition, the balance isn’t quite there. Obviously, the campfire is overpowered, and I think it would be made even more so if I decided to surround it with walls and traps – if the crazy people were forced to funnel into the campfire to get to me, they would all be screwed. Also, you are attacked far too frequently. I was fortunate that I found the campfire trick when I did, because otherwise I would have gotten frustrated with the relentless assault of crazy people. Another thing is that it wouldn’t stop freakin’ raining, which discouraged me from venturing too far away from my campfire. As I mentioned earlier, the amount of materials you need to build things and the amount of time it takes to chop down trees makes the material gathering extremely tedious and boring. There was something atmospheric to chopping down a tree in real time and listening as it crumbles to the ground, but only the first time. After the 20th time, you get the point. I wish it were faster.
While this is expected for an early access game, I will mention that I encountered a lot of bugs in my experience with The Forest. There was a time that I was absolutely unable to keep my axe equipped – every time I picked up a new item (even if it wasn’t a weapon), the axe would be taken out of my hands and put back into the inventory. This is relatively minor, but with how often you need to use the axe as well as how often you need to pick up items, it is extremely annoying. There were times when I couldn’t pick up items even if I had enough space for them in my bag. The worst offender is that my game would not save or advance through time when I slept at my shelter. Since this is early access, I expect all of these to be ironed out before the game’s final release.
The game also looks quite nice. The water, especially, looks spectacular. Everything else is serviceable enough to add to the atmosphere. While it isn’t anything we haven’t seen on the PC before, there are still moments that look incredibly beautiful and, due to the setting, appropriately disturbing. The sounds are good, too, although there isn’t a lot going on there just yet. I will say that the creepiest moments were when it was dark and I could hear the crazy people scurrying around in the distance, waiting for their moment to attack me. If the sound design expands upon this promising foundation, we’ll be in for a treat.
The Steam page promises more items to build (which is evident by the blank pages in the survival guide), a no-enemies mode, new areas, new enemies, and new animals, as well as a few other things. I don’t think any of these new options will resolve the main issue of the core gameplay being too thin to sustain interest for very long, but I’d love to be proven otherwise. As it is now, however, I can’t recommend spending $15 for a promise of a better game. Keep an eye on the Steam page to see what they have added, and we’ll be sure to weigh back in on The Forest when more substantial content is there.