The Forest puts you in the middle of a hostile environment, filled with hostile creatures, and tells you to not die. At its core, The Forest is a game about surviving in a place that is utterly hostile. Lost in the forest, alone, pursued, you must use the environment in any way you can to help you survive. As a horror survival game set in an open world, The Forest seems to deliberately target our sensibilities here at OnlySP, and, after speaking with developer Ben Falcone earlier this year, that is why The Forest is one of our most anticipated games of 2014.
With The Forest, developers SKS are attempting to create an immersive, deep, horrific survival experience to keep gamers occupied and terrified for many dark hours. Hinging on replayability, emergent gameplay, an open world, and horror themes, The Forest sounds like an unforgiving platter of gameplay elements that should satisfy many an itch.
Technologically, The Forest will be implementing the latest in VR tech – namely, the Oculus Rift. While the headset isn’t widely available or distributed, there is a level of demand and an enthusiastic user-base for virtual reality, and SKS are adjusting their methods accordingly. A lot of work is going in to make the experience on Oculus as immersive and powerful as possible, with the team actively developing for the platform and taking it into account during development and playtesting. Some areas, like the caves, are being designed with the Oculus in mind, creating claustrophobic experiences for those who can handle it.
What’s most astounding is that the team has a full time staff of only three. Revolving around the hard work of these three members is a satellite of contractors, freelancers and outsourced artists and programmers, who all build on the vision of these three key people. The Forest would be ambitious for any fully funded AAA studio – that it is being pursued by such a small core team is extraordinary.
While PC is the only confirmed platform at the moment, the team at SKS are keeping their options open, and hope to bring the game to as many platforms as possible in the future.
The Forest will live or die by its gameplay. As a horror game, The Forest must be scary to hold interest. As an open world survival game, interaction with the environment must be intuitive and extensive. And, it looks like SKS have an eye on both.
The horror element is set to come primarily from the creatures, persistently looking for you. Cannibals will hunt and harry, searching for fresh flesh to devour. The chase, and the measures you take to protect yourself from the pursuers, will form the cornerstone for the horror experiences. But it is not only cannibals out for a delicious time – there are other, as yet unrevealed creatures to be afraid of in the forest. Enemies aren’t mindless automatons with only the kill on their minds. SKS are promising that creatures will have fears and feelings that influence their behaviours and actions.
More subtle is the psychological, environmental horror. The isolation of the forest will build the atmosphere, playing on the tension of being alone in an unfamiliar and hostile environment. The network of caves underground will close in on the player, creating a claustrophobic environment that will make a good deal of people quite anxious.
Avoiding enemies will be more significant than combat, with stealth playing an important role in The Forest. Hiding and creeping around, staying out of sight and avoiding prying eyes will drastically increase your chance of survival. Stealth will be a primary recourse when it comes to some of the nastier, more horrific creatures in the game, lurking in the shadows and depths of the cave system.
Crafting items and weapons to survive will play a key role in The Forest’s survival aspects. Whether it is tools for refining materials and creating other objects, shelters for survival, or weapons to defend yourself with, creating the new from the found is an important feature. The full extent of the crafting system is yet to be revealed, but all hints are suggesting it will be extensive.
Most exciting is the promise of the emergent open world. Beyond the horror, interacting with the world will make up the largest part of gameplay. The world will live, independent of your actions. Weather, day and night, the tides – all will impact on gameplay in some way, some more directly than others. For example, cold nights will require a fire for warmth, otherwise penalties to abilities such as stamina will be put in place. Interacting with the environment will be integral to survival. Every tree can be cut down, entire swathes of forest can be cleared. This offers materials for crafting, as well as a possible tactical advantage for the inevitable encounters with the enemy.
The Forest will tell a cannibal horror story, scaring the player in an innovative way. Instead of relying on traditional narrative structures, instead The Forest will tell its story entirely through being in the world. There will be no audio logs. There is no dialogue. Instead, the story will be told organically and osmotically through the gameplay and the visuals. Players will absorb the story through the way they play, and the way in which the world responds to their actions. This approach to story-telling is not unique – Gone Home and Dear Esther follow similar patterns, although both contain audio journals of sorts. Removing the crutch of language could be a powerful tool in the story-telling arsenal of The Forest, especially considering its horror focus.
The story is completely optional, though, with players being first and foremost tasked with surviving. Open world exploration and survival gameplay will take priority over a strict story. There is a definite ending to the game, but most players will be able to play for a very long time before encountering the true end to the game.
Indie studios have a habit of dreaming big. Sometimes, those dreams are beyond reach. Sometimes, though, sometimes studios have the gumption and talent to make truly ambitious projects become reality. The Forest is looking, so far, like it may just be part of the latter. The Forest is currently heavily in development at SKS. It’s aiming for a 2014 release for PC, and maybe other platforms later on. We’ll keep an eye on The Forest, and let you know every last detail we can find.