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Review: The Forest

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: NR - Not Rated
My Rating: Adults - 18+
Genre: Survival Horror
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2018
Review Published On: June 24, 2020
Played on: Thaddeus

Available from:

Humble Store, Steam

Save System:

To save* your game, you'll need to return to any shelter or bed you've built. This makes it very important to be able to return to your base quickly, but you can also throw together a temporary shelter wherever you are and save* there. When you save* your game, you'll be able to choose between several save slots*. This also allows you to save* more than one copy of your progress.

To pause the game, either press ESC* to bring up the pause menu or view your inventory, as the game also pauses while on that screen.

Summary of
Major Issues:

While this game is fun, it's heavily saturated with realistic blood and gore. Even on the Peaceful setting, there's more graphic material here than in some of the other violent games I've reviewed.

Screenshots

[view screenshot]
Welcome to the Forest

[view screenshot]
My cabin in the woods

[view screenshot]
That's a BIG NOPE right there



Game Overview

Picture this: You and your son Timmy are flying towards a great vacation. While Timmy sleeps in the seat next to you, you're preparing to "enjoy" some airline food. It's a quiet, happy scene, so naturally this is when the plane hits some heavy turbulence and everything goes black. When you can see again, the plane has violently crashed, you're covered in blood, and there's a strange man cradling your son. Before you can do or say anything, you pass back out, and when you finally reawaken, the man and your son are gone.

Welcome to the Forest, a rather grisly survival horror game.

Stuck in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to help you survive beyond an axe and some miscellaneous items you can salvage from the plane, you'll need to build a shelter, find food and water, and hope to last long enough to figure out how to rescue Timmy and escape. That's also easier said than done, as this place is crawling with territorial and cannibalistic natives who are less than happy that someone else is out there. Worse, as time goes on, more disturbing examples of inhumanity start showing up, increasing the likelihood of you becoming somebody's dinner.

Yet, while there's enough to keep you busy on the surface, the real adventure is found in the cave networks that span the island. You'll need to need to prepare yourself with handmade armor, weapons, and portable foodstuffs before travelling into any of them, as it's easy to get lost in the dark caverns and many of the fiercer natives and mutants have made their home down there.

Should you survive all of that, you'll eventually find your son and learn the terrible secret behind this island. Here you come to your final decision -- continue the cycle of tragedy and save your son, or let him go and live out the remainder of your life evading the natives.

That's roughly the Forest's entire story; compared to more story-driven games out there, it's barely a story at all. But that's okay; it's mainly there as a framing device for the rest of the game. The real fun comes from dealing with the monsters and surviving the harsh environment. The lush forest is teeming with detail, and the creatures that live here are frighteningly intelligent. This game's world was intended to feel realistic, and it shows with the complex ways the natives behave.

Unfortunately, the realistic feel of the game's world is also the source of most of its issues. Blood and gore is very detailed, and you're going to see a lot of it. Hunting for food is just one example, as you and your tools can be smeared with fresh blood as you kill, skin, and butcher your prey. Fighting with the natives can get even worse, as blows to the head can knock some of their teeth out and if you manage to kill a native, you'll need to dispose of the body fairly quickly.

Now, there is an option that allows you to play through the game without having to deal with the cannibals and most of the mutants. This "Peaceful" option greatly changes the mood of the game, as you're free to do whatever you want at your own pace, with the only dangers being the local fauna and the elements themselves. Personally, I really like this mode. It feels like I'm playing a video game adaptation of a book I loved during my childhood. Sadly, I get the impression that this was not the intended experience, as this mode only prevents the monsters from spawning* -- all of the gore found in the world is still there.

I'd definitely suggest giving the Forest a go, provided you're not very squeamish and old enough to handle the disturbing content* you'll be exposed to during your game. The ever-present danger of being caught by the cannibal tribes keeps you on the edge of your seat, or if that's not your thing, play on Peaceful and immerse yourself in a virtual life among nature.

Points of Interest

Hidden treasures
There are a lot of things for you to search out and collect during your travels across the Forest. These include crayon drawings, the scattered pieces of Timmy's action figure, and VHS tapes that show recordings of different events that happened at a mysterious laboratory hidden somewhere deep inside the island's cave systems. You'll also discover sketches people have drawn of various creatures and artifacts that are unique to this island and the research being performed there.

Another optional challenge is to locate everyone else who was on the plane with you at the start of the game. There's a passenger manifest in the back of the plane's wreckage; it's somewhat easy to miss, but once you've collected it, you'll be able to keep track of which passengers you've found. Of course, none of the other passengers are going to be alive when you find them, so don't hope for a miracle.

Spending your time collecting these items is optional, but you will earn some achievements* if you can find every item in certain sets.
Customizable difficulty
When you start a new game, you have your typical difficulty options (normal, hard, etc). However, you can also fine tune these choices via the Options menu, which allows you to control how monsters spawn* and whether or not they can demolish your buildings. This last point might be particularly important, as it will definitely have an impact over how you build and defend your base.
Terrifyingly intelligent AI
NOBODY really knows what makes the monsters tic, and that ensures that they remain a creepy enigma for the player. I've seen them mourn their fallen, attempt to pull other natives away from dangerous places, inspect meat on my drying racks, tell each other about my presence, and intentionally investigate campfires to see what's going on. More primitive members of their society can be especially scary, as they often prefer to run on their knuckles or scamper up trees like something straight out of the uncanny valley.

On the other hand, the same cannot be said of the birds in this game. They have an extremely poor sense of what's going on around them, meaning that you can literally walk up and skewer a few birds from a group before any of them notice. They'll also happily land on whatever you've built, which makes them an even easier target.
Steam community features
This game comes complete with a set of 45 achievements* for you to earn. Some of these are earned through raw survival, such as living through a certain number of days, but many will require going out of your way to do some unusual things. To make things more interesting, several achievements* don't list their requirements, though the name of the achievement* usually provides enough of a hint. The bad news is that several achievements* are only available during multiplayer games, which is where this game's major technical issues crop up.

Alternatively, if you're interested in collecting them, there is also a set of Steam trading cards* available.
Tricky combat
Your character is not a skilled fighter or space marine here, and it shows. Ranged weapons are also pretty rare, so the Forest's combat system is built around melee combat instead. In order to fight effectively, you'll need to block incoming attacks and wait to perform your own attacks when the opponent has left themselves open. It's not easy to time things right, and it can feel like the combat system is broken if you're expecting it to flow like other games.
Building options are somewhat limiting
Unlike most games that center around building, you are limited to the selection of craftable structures listed in your field guide. These do provide a range of possible options, including ways to build custom structures, but it feels like there isn't much room for creativity. Also, many of the larger builds don't seem worth the time it takes to track down their resources.

Part of the issue here is that building larger structures requires a lot of time spent chopping down trees and dragging the logs to the building site. Like other things, this is handled very realistically, meaning that chopping wood is tedious and you can only carry two small logs at a time without using a sled.
Multiplayer has a number of issues
While there is a co-op* multiplayer mode, a lot of people have been dealing with bugs* and problems when using it. To be more specific, item duplication bugs are reportedly commonplace, and the otherwise amazing AI* system the natives use doesn't seem to work properly when there are multiple targets. Unfortunately, if you really want every achievement*, you're going to need to brave this mode at some point.

Concerns and Issues

Lots of gore and violence
As mentioned above, this game does try to depict things more or less realistically. This is reflected in the way it handles construction projects, wilderness survival, and its depictions of violence. Killing any animal will result in the body being shown bloodied, and butchering the larger game takes place in two steps. The first step is to skin the animal, which exposes the animal's raw musculature. The second step involves butchering the meat itself, which leaves the animal's head behind. At this point, you can either leave the head on the ground, or collect to mount as a decoration.

Dealing with the natives either involves direct melee combat or various traps which can do the job for you. Regardless of which you choose, you'll need to dispose of the body once the fight is over. You effectively have three options. Firstly, you can burn the body, which will leave a pile of bones behind. The skulls and bones you gather this way can be used to craft various items or decorations. Secondly, you can chop the body up and use the pieces to create very disturbing structures called effigies. Those are intended to spook the natives and keep them away, but their effectiveness is not guaranteed. Presumably the reason they aren't reliable is because the cannibals also make their own effigies, which decorate their villages and paths through the forest. Your third and final option is to chop the body up, cook the pieces, and then consume them. This allows you to indulge in some cannibalism yourself, though why you'd want to is beyond me.

Lastly, the caverns are filled with the leftovers from the cannibal's meals. You'll find their "larders" in several caves, along with skulls and other unidentifiable remains left hanging around. Also, the first time you get killed by the hostile creatures on this island (or just bad luck), the natives will happily drag you to their main larder and string you up as a snack for later. The second time you die in game, the game is over.
Body horror
As if the way some of the cannibals move around isn't unsettling enough, there are several different kinds of mutants wandering around on the island. Most of them stay hidden for the first couple of days, but as time goes on, they become just as common as the natives. The most common types of mutants are twisted and malformed humans, though they only barely resemble our species. Two of them have the wrong number of limbs (including heads), while another is so bloated it looks more like a giant soggy cheeto than a human.

The most dangerous type of mutant you'll encounter in this game is a bizarre slug creature, which can summon many more of its kind and assemble themselves into various "colony creatures" that are very suitable for killing you.
Some religious references
If you explore the caves long enough, you'll come across evidence that some missionaries had visited the island in the past. This includes a campsite, some bibles, at least one crucifix, a number of crosses, and some religious-sounding scribbles. None of it seems to have any real impact on the story or gameplay, but it does help provide a spooky (if cliche) atmosphere.
Mild nudity
None of the mutants wear anything, though to be honest, if any of them excite you, then you have some bigger issues to deal with (see the third screenshot above). Many of the natives go about uncovered too, but there's really nothing to see because they're covered with so much mud and other filth that you can't make anything out. On the other hand, the more important (and more dangerous) natives do wear clothing and other gear.

Also, you'll find a number of nude bodies in the caverns, but a pile of corpses is hardly attractive or tempting.
Came Back Wrong
As you might have already guessed, the island where the Forest takes place houses a couple of artifacts related to resurrecting the dead. Since people are always ready to stick their noses into things that they really shouldn't tamper with, there's a laboratory deep underground where scientists are trying to figure out how to control those artifacts. The problem is that their success rate has been... less than satisfactory.

Evidently, the scientists working in this lab didn't quite get their research correct. Some time after being brought back to life by these ancient machines, the subjects suffer from extremely severe seizures, contorting themselves horribly right before their humanity is ripped away as they reform into the mutant freaks you've seen around the island.
Do you continue the cycle?
In order to bring someone back from the dead using the equipment in the lab, you need to sacrifice another human life. This is why your plane was forced to crash; the man you saw holding Timmy at the beginning of the game sacrificed him to resurrect his daughter. This brings us to the final decision that you'll need to make to bring this game's story to a close.

Knowing that the artifacts don't entirely work as desired, do you still use them to resurrect your son, or do you let him go?

If you choose to resurrect Timmy, you'll need to use the lab's equipment to crash another passenger airliner and sacrifice someone else. Your other option is to shut down the equipment, leaving Timmy and the research behind.

If you choose the latter option, you'll be able to return to the surface and continue playing as long as you like, effectively enabling an endless play mode with some special items that affect the way the natives behave around you. Just fair warning: if you're not playing on Peaceful, this is going to get much harder as a miniboss* variant of the game's final boss* will begin spawning* above ground.