The Forest

The Forest - Early Access Impressions

The view there might have been glorious, but the locals took the edge off our walk through The Forest.

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It starts the same every time. You're sitting on a plane, a young child - your son most likely - is sleeping next to you, holding your arm. Shortly thereafter this picture of tranquility is violently ripped apart, when an explosion tears through the aircraft, and sends you plummeting down to the tree-filled landscape below. The next thing you see is a strange man standing over you, the body of your young companion held in his arms. He walks off, leaving you to your death, and thus the adventure begins.

After that things change according to circumstance. Our first play saw the plane crash by a beach. A later pass had the wreckage located deeper into the forest. The environment itself isn't randomly generated each time, just the location of the crash site, but it does change your perspective and make for a fresh(er) experience each time you begin again.

The Forest

The experience here involves scavenging, crafting, exploration, and running the hell away from the cannibalistic natives that inhabit the land that you've had the misfortune of stumbling into. As far as the burgeoning survivalist genre goes, The Forest covers most of the staples and mixes them with a couple of its own ideas.

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From the first moments, where you're scavenging the wreckage of the plane, there's a need for nourishment and personal care. If your character isn't well fed and rested, he's going to be less capable (there's just a male character available at the moment). Also, if you're cold you'll also use up your precious energy, something that can only be replenished via food or, if you've got somewhere to rest your head, sleep.

With all these survivalist systems in place, this feels like a game that should embrace permadeath, but it doesn't as yet. The first time you get tagged you wake up in a cave system, but later deaths will be final, except you'll be able to return to the world via an old save if/when the local inhabitants manage to get you (it looks like you will be able to switch the permadeath feature on and off via a hardcore mode, but it's not there as yet). The other option is the game's peaceful mode, where the major threats in The Forest are disabled. Accessing this is done by typing "veganmode" at the title screen (this, however, is not well-signposted information).

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Either way, no matter how you play the game, you're in for a visual treat. It looks great, especially when you consider that this is the work of just four people. The team has a background in VFX, and have worked on some popular movies in the past, and that level of graphical polish is in evidence here. The lighting is particularly impressive, and at one point we settled down on the beach simply to watch the sunset and contemplate our surroundings (meditation that was rudely interrupted by a gang of cannibals that turned up moments later).

There's a lot of pop-up, and many assets are reused with excessive frequency. However, that doesn't detract too much from the detail that can be found in the world around you, from the birds and crawling reptiles, to the landmarks you discover as you investigate the landscape that's all around. There's caves to explore, and if you delve deep enough underground, you'll uncover things far more disturbing than the bipedal cannibals that patrol the surface.

It doesn't take long before you're equipped with an axe. Its main use is cutting down trees, but it can be used in self-defence if you run into trouble (which you will). It's then, when you're swinging the axe around your head and trying to decapitate an advancing cannibal, that you discover that the melee combat in The Forest simply isn't that great as yet. The enemies that you meet are just too axe-proof for our liking. Obviously this is to make them more dangerous, and to discourage the player from going on an axe-wielding rampage, but repeatedly hitting an enemy with the axe and them subsequently not dying in a bloody mess, is somewhat jarring (eventually, when they do die, they erupt in a shower of limbs, however it takes too long to put them in this state).

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The erratic AI of the cannibals can also feel a little off at times. They'll often run into an area, legs moving as if in fast-forward. Sometimes they'll see you and attack, other times they look straight at you from 20 meters away, and then walk off as if you were never there.

There's an element of base building and defence that comes into play, especially at night. Each player carries with them a book that includes instructions on what resources are needed for building different structures and traps (for both enemies and animals). At night the locals will attack your base, and it's up to you to prepare defences in advance, and good traps can mean the difference between life and death. Fire is also your friend, and it is a much more effective deterrent than the axe you carry.

There's plenty to look forward to as far as The Forest is concerned. Not least the fact that Endnight is looking to add co-op features once the game has released, and will also have Oculus support (we're imagining that it will look stunning when played via a virtual reality headset). There's even an endgame, something usually lacking in games such as this, but we're still a long way off seeing that (we can't therefore, comment on whether it's already in place). There's still a lot to do before this is the game that it wants to be, but the basic building blocks are solid and there's plenty there for the small studio to work with and expand upon. The future is certainly promising for Endnight's horror-survival sandbox, even if it game isn't quite there yet in its current state. It's perfectly playable as it stands, but we're tempted to wait until it's feature complete before we visit again.

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