There’s something rather unsettling about the island peninsula you find yourself stranded on during the opening cutscene of The Forest. While the landscape is populated with lush plant life and bountiful rivers, people initially seem absent and an eerie silence hangs heavy in the air.
Eric is seemingly the sole survivor of a devastating plane crash which has left him stranded and his son missing. The island is filled with secrets but also populated with frenzied cannibals who scuttle in the shadows and screech in the dead of night. Encounters with these cannibals often lead to unpredictable confrontations. Instead of immediately attacking, some may sprint away, only to halt and watch your behaviour from a distance. Others will run wide circles around you, scouting the location of your camp only to return with reinforcements once night falls. The Forest’s frightening foes cause constant fear and apprehension; even when the cannibals are nowhere to be seen, the knowledge of their existence is chilling.
At its core The Forest is a survival horror game and, to stay alive in the harsh open world landscape, you have a wide variety of tools and tactics at your disposal. The island offers up bountiful supplies for those willing to fully explore the landscape, with rabbits and wild birds acting as a plentiful food source if you can catch them. Scrubs are bountiful too, and while most conceal edible fruits, some are deadly and must be avoided. Luckily, the Survival Guide outlines basic survival techniques and tips to increase your likelihood of escaping the island alive. As well as food guidelines, steps to create fires and build camps can be found in this book, and for the initial hours of the game this will be your saving grace as you struggle to cope in an unforgiving and malicious environment.
Following the structure of recent survival experiences, it’s important to keep a close eye on your vital signs. Hunger, thirst, health, and sanity all need to be closely monitored and maintained and, while some of your choices may replenish one bar, the moral ramifications may leave your sanity severely affected. For example, in dire situations you may have no choice but to kill and eat the meat of the cannibals hunting you, and you may no longer be hungry, but your mental state will worsen.
With very little in the way of supplies, crafting is an important feature and without it you’ll struggle to stay alive for long. Your simple axe can be transformed into a more powerful weapon simply by taping additional items to it to add a flammable factor to your attacks. The crafting system itself is simplistic and lays all manner of potential crafting materials out for you to play with. Basic items like bottles can be turned into dangerous Molotov cocktails and once you’ve explored the island more thoroughly, complicated items such as armour and traps can be created as well.
Once you become more confident, you can focus more of your time on building outposts and buildings to shelter from the cannibals. The complexity of these structures depends on the level of engagement you choose to have with the environment. It’s your choice whether you want to focus on crafting materials for a secure bunker, a home base, or even a sanctuary. The other option is to set out across the island, fighting off cannibals and uncovering the simplistic narrative that is hidden within the game in a desperate attempt to find freedom as quickly as possible.
If the frights of this world seem too unnerving to face alone, you’ll be happy to know that a co-operative experience has been added as a feature of the main game. In a team of up to eight players, you can experience the nightmares inside The Forest with the security of others watching your back. Multiplayer may be enjoyable but, with a large squad on your side, fear of being hunted and alone is diminished, therefore affecting atmosphere and tension which is so prominent and successful in the main game.
An eerie open world filled with deadly AI enemies elevates The Forest above a good number of survival horror experiences out there. Don't let the lack of story and minor repetition turn you off this atmospheric title.