There is Unrest in The Forest, There is Trouble in the Trees

It’s been a long time coming but The Forest finally landed on Early Access, promptly taking over the top download spot on Steam for a week and counting.  There are a couple of kinds of Early Access games- those that have a ton of content and want gamer testing to smooth out the edges, and games that are super-ultra early with a very long way to go before being ready for anyone but the core fanbase.  The Forest falls into the latter category, but that obviously hasn’t slowed down much enthusiasm about this beautiful, hideous survival horror game.

The plot of The Forest takes about a minute to set up- you’re on a plane with a young boy, probably your son.  It crashes, the boy is taken by a naked tribesman, and you need to survive the island’s dangers to find him.  Those dangers are the tribe of cannibals who call the island home, utterly murderous to any outsiders but living in harmony with the natural beauty of the island.  And then you show up chopping down trees and desecrating the land while being made of tasty, tasty meat.  It’s like you’re practically begging to be eviscerated and devoured!

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Still, survival is the name of the game, but there’s a world of difference between The Forest and most other survival games.  The first and most obvious difference is that there’s not a cube to be seen anywhere.  The world of The Forest is as pretty as you could hope for, with detailed trees and plants growing over the naturally flowing landscape.  The other major difference is that there’s very little that’s random.  The island is a carefully hand-created place without a bit of procedurally-generated anything to be found.  You have complete freedom to go anywhere and set up your homestead, chopping down whatever trees catch your fancy and building where you please, but the island geography is the same for everyone.

Building a home and the furnishings for survival is where the crafting comes in, and at the moment almost everything is built from sticks, rocks, and logs.  You can chop down small trees to get sticks, or just pick them and as many rocks as you like up off the ground, so any recipe that requires those resources will be pretty easy even though you can only carry a limited amount at a time.  Logs only come from felled trees, though, and that takes a bit of work to acquire.  Once you’ve smacked a tree enough times with an axe it falls down in a majestic fashion, with realistic cut marks on the stump and a believable-enough falling animation.  Then the tree hits the ground and turns into 4-5 logs that bounce over the landscape, which maybe takes away from the illusion of realism just a tiny bit.  Once you’ve built a shelter, a fireplace, and small garden, and maybe a bin to hold spare logs it’s time to relax a little, if only the cannibals didn’t start making house calls.

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While the forest itself is pretty, even when you’ve speared a bunny and toasted it by the fire, the cannibals bring the horror.  There was a full plane-load of people that crashed on the island and, as you explore the world, it’s obvious none of them got a pleasant death.  As you build your new home the cannibals leave markers around it made of bits and pieces of whoever’s handy.  If that’s not bad enough, deep in the caves are shambling multi-limbed abominations that, on viewing, I decided to leave well enough alone.  They’ll probably be along soon enough, if I can just manage to survive the quirks that exist in the game’s current state.

In the case of The Forest, Early Access can’t stress enough the importance of the word “Early”.  Saving the game was only just added today, and even something as basic as this is a very buggy feature.  Half-finished constructs and most of the inventory disappear on reloading the game, for example, and no matter what time of day you save it always reloads to the morning.  There’s a ton of crafting recipes still to come, flora is nicely diverse but fauna is limited to birds, bunnies, and lizards, there’s holes in the world you can fall through, and other various glitches and bugs throughout.  It’s the nature of the Early Access beast, though, and the entire point of the process (aside from getting the developers some proper funding) is to get player feedback on all the things.  Unless you’re really excited to play the game, it’s most likely a good idea to hold off for a few updates.  Despite the major disclaimer, though, the bits that are working are nicely intriguing, contrasting the natural beauty of the unspoiled island with the savagery of pure survival.  There’s a lot going on in The Forest, and watching it develop into the game it deserves to become should be well worth putting up with a few bumps along the way.