After watching Ray Mears survive the wilds over the years, we felt prepared for anything this game could throw at us. Turns out that we were wrong, because nobody was trying to eat Ray, and that's the kind of adversity you have to deal with here. The Forest isn't just a gentle meander through the woods looking for mushrooms to nibble, but instead it's a stunning survival experience that can be brutally difficult at times, especially if you have a bit of bad luck.
In a start that looks a bit like the one from TV series Lost, as you're the survivor of a plane crash on a peninsula populated by cannibals and mutants who have kidnapped your son. One minute you're minding your business on a flight with your boy, and the next thing you know, you're involved in a plane crash, with the wreckage appearing potentially anywhere on the map. This means, if you're lucky, you'll be far away from any human munchers. If you're not so lucky, get your weapons ready.
You have a choice between playing in single-player and multiplayer, with the solo game coming in three different difficulties. The first time we played it we thought the normal setting was really hard, but this was down to the aforementioned bad luck. In later playthroughs, we were better prepared and quickly took out a couple of invaders with a bow and arrow, having a relatively peaceful start thereafter.
There was also another way to get rid of any of the enemies and survive this harsh island: get a friend to help you. This review is going to focus more on the multiplayer aspect of the title, wherein you and three other friends (or randoms) can build your base and try to get off the island (or not - spoiler alert). Many of the great features found in the single-player are carried over into the drop in/drop out MP aspect too.
Generally speaking, one thing we loved was how the cannibal AI worked. There you are, chopping a tree watching your buddy trying to spear a fish when a feral grunt roars out. It would have been so easy for it to be a case of them running in and attacking you, but something genuinely terrifying happens next, since the AI has some form of self-preservation. Quite often they just hang back, stalking you, trying to find out where your base is so they can report back to the others. At other moments they'll try and test you to see if you'll stand your ground, but scarper at the last second to avoid conflict. There are even some who just want you off their hunting grounds, and when you leave, they'll bugger off.
These interactions make it feel like you genuinely have to hide or fight to survive, and that makes it such a great horror adventure. There are sharks that want to eat you, which along with drowning, means that heading out into the ocean to escape the locals isn't always the answer. In the single-player game, the first time you plummet down a slope or get overwhelmed by savages, you'll find yourself being dragged to a cave. In this cavern, you'll get to see some of the other deceased passengers and find a map and compass. In the multiplayer, you'll just collapse and wait for your friend to bail you out. If your buddy takes too long, or your demise is caused by drowning or sharks, you can always respawn back at the plane and then head out to pick up your backpack.
Along with the dangerous critters like sharks, there is a range of animals to hunt and kill. You can dine on them and even fashion armour out of their hides. If the mood so takes you, you can even go full cannibal and feast on your neighbours. There's also a trophy that will pop if you go for the entire playthrough as a vegan, eating just berries.
There's so much to see, do, and explore, as you can irritate the natives by building a tree house, a fire, or even making a weird totem out of the body parts of their buddies. Luckily, you get a survival guide right at the start which teaches you how to build the basics, however, we need to say that moving through the different sections of the book with L1 and R1 was a bit of a bore, as you have to visit every page to get to the one you want.
There weren't many other issues, and it seems a pretty straight port over to console, although when playing in multiplayer the screen occasionally froze for a second while the game caught up with itself. MP doesn't feel bolted on, and the addition of others online to help you build really did feel like it was how the game was designed to be played. Sure, we really enjoyed our single-player jaunt through the alpine peninsula's trees, dodging psychos and spearing lizards, but there was no-one but the cannibals to see. The solo experience felt a little lonely at times as we searched for our son, but we should say that this loneliness and isolation was still a great experience, and it does give you another way of playing the game.
The multiplayer, on the other hand, excels because it feels so different. Sadly, only the host of the game can save the world you play in, with those who join just being able to save progress in terms of items and stats, such as athleticism. That said, it's just so much fun to see your friends around you working together, chopping wood, and slaughtering cannibals. The atmosphere, the great graphics, and the fun all carry over so well from one mode to the other that after discovering the joys of online, we spent more time there than on our own. We did, however, go back to single-player just to get the alternative experience.
All told, The Forest is a decent survival title for PlayStation 4, and there's so much to see and do. The excellent AI will leave you genuinely terrified while playing alone in the dark, and you'll be even more grateful when an online buddy comes along to help you out. This is one of the best survival experiences on the PS4 right now, and with the horror edge, it really does stand out. If you're up for a challenge, this is one forest worth exploring further.
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