I hate flying. I hate the takeoff – all I can think about is the plane facepalming off the runway or being shot out of the sky with a rocket launcher. I hate flying over sea and terrain, wondering if we will crash and how I’d survive.
Well, I need wonder no more as that is the literal plot of The Forest. You’re flying with your son when the plane goes down. It crashes on an island and you awake in the debris of the plane to see your son… carried off by cannibals. What!?
This is all The Forest shows you. No tutorial. No easy entry into the game or clear objective other than the obvious – find your son.
The first thing I did was figure out the controls. It wasn’t that hard really. Usual first-person shooter controls are the order of the day. But what do you DO? It’s obvious surely. You survive.
Thankfully, you have with you a survival book. In the notes you have written down the most pressing of your tasks – find your son. As the day draws to a close, you realise some shelter would be useful – so find shelter is added. Your survival book is more than a mere journal however. It contains instructions for building basic shelters, defences, traps and (oddly) decorations for your shelter. Foraging through the forested island, you gather resources to complete these builds.
Crafting is also a big deal. Items you collect will go in your backpack, and you can combine these into various things. For example, a cloth, a bottle of booze and your lighter equals a Molotov cocktail. The game does tell you the various combinations which takes the pressure off experimentation away a little bit but that’s about a far the the game goes towards hand holding.
What to do then. The first thing I discovered is that I need a better shelter. You can save at a shelter and also ‘skip’ the night, which is useful as it’s very hard to see what you’re doing in the pitch black. One of your constants is your lighter which is always with you. It lights up things a bit, but not enough to warrant being alone in the wilderness.
Once you have a reasonable camp set up, you need to begin your proper quest. Things to do are noted in your book – get hungry, and you note that you need to eat. Thirsty – need to drink. You’re on an island so obviously, drinking is easy right? Wrong. You can’t drink sea water. Pond water that you find in streams or waterfalls will make you ill, so you need to boil it, providing you can find a pan. Maybe you kill a turtle and take its shell and fashion it into a rain collector… which is great unless it isn’t raining.
As you can tell by now, the survival elements are well thought out, realistic without being too annoying. You’d think that having to eat and drink all the time is testing, but honestly its present as a thing to do without being too annoying, and helps cater towards the management sim side of things without having to veer too close to a spreadsheet. Think of it more as a survival simulator. But with cannibals.
Oh the cannibals. I first saw one when I went to the beach to see what I could find, and it looked like a monkey stuttering away. Clearly aware and nervous of me, it (he? she?) followed me from a distance without getting too close. Concerned it might report back as to my whereabouts (if that was a thing) I chased it down and beat it with my axe. Bones provide you with another helpful resource, but dealing with my guilt of taking another life (not an in-game mechanic… at least early on) I wondered how far I might go. It turns out, very far.
On the beach in the distance I saw some huts. As I approached I could see them vacant and went in for a closer look. Sadly it was some sort of processing ground for human skulls and then I saw a tribe of cannibals scouring nearby wreckage from the plane crash. They chased me down and knocked me out, whereby I found myself tied upside down in a cave. I was scared and reloaded my save.
There is an over-arching plot which reveals itself the more you play and discover which I shan’t ruin. You can play at your own pace, developing your camp. The better it gets, the more the locals are interested and you learn the nuances of evading patrols (particularly at night) so there’s a balance to be had. You can turn on tree regrowth and structure damage if you wish to make it easier/harder for yourself too. And should you want some help, you can play co-op.
I haven’t finished the Forest, but I’ve played more than enough to know that I love it. It’s interesting, complex without being overwhelming and haunting. You feel alone and defenceless, but can end up feeling powerful and in control. It’s an interesting journey, balancing action with patience and for the price, I would highly recommend it.
Reviewed on PS4