Early Access Preview: The Forest

Survival crafting games have become a genre of their own over the last several years. With Minecraft being the most recognized example and perhaps the pioneer of the trend, games incorporating crafting, survival, base building, and vast resource-rich worlds appear frequently in the indie developer space and platforms like Steam. Among the many titles that classify themselves as survival games is Endnight’s’ The Forest, a recently released survival game with a focus on horror.

Developed by a four man team and released in early alpha over Steam Early Access, The Forest may tread familiar ground, but it’s by far one of the most impressive and promising Early Access titles that I’ve played to date.

The Forest begins on a plane with the unnamed protagonist sitting next to a small boy, presumably his son. It doesn’t take long for the plane to start shaking and make a rapid descent toward land. Upon waking from the crash, immobilized, the player character witnesses a man dressed in tribal garb pick up his son and walk away from the crash site.

The intro to The Forest sets up the foundation of the game’s story, but at this point in development it’s absent from the game – with the current focus being on prolonged survival and no end goal. Equipped with a starting axe, players are left to scavenge what they can from the wreckage and go off into the forest to start their new lives.

One of the first things you will notice is that The Forest is visually impressive for such an early alpha title. It’s missing some of the bells and whistles that add depth to a game’ visuals, such as some particle effects, filters, and haze, but the forest itself is dense with life and colorful. Animals occupy the world, scurrying about around the player. Rabbits, lizards, tortoises, birds, and even sharks can be found in the game, with presumably more types being added in the future. Some them can provide players with necessary items such as meat for sustenance and hide for armor.

What’s a crafting game without one of the core resources being wood, right? With the axe from the plane crash, players will begin crafting shelters, traps, and fires. Trees can be chopped down in a rather impressive way, with each strike removing a chunk from the tree’s trunk until the tree falls over. Logs are acquired from trees; sticks are taken from destroyed bushes; and rocks can be found on the forest floor. The game’s crafting book, while incomplete, includes recipes for several types of shelters, the ability to build walls, boats, and effigies. Effigies are structures made to ward off the island’s residents: the cannibals.

One’s success in surviving in The Forest is based on their ability to maintain their health, hunger, and energy, but also being able to survive attacks by the the forest’s natives. Tribes of cannibals survey the land and appear to scout for the player at all hours of the day. Once they make visual contact, their actions range from intimidation to outright attacks. While the AI behind the cannibals is impressive on the surface, enabling them to realistically interact with players by flanking and helping those wounded in their ranks, their actions are pretty limited.

Personally, effigies have had no effect in my experience, and I’ve struggled to avoid the cannibals despite sneaking around and concealing my camp in the most out of reach places. Regardless, their animations are well designed and elicit surprise – especially when they start climbing trees and walls at frightening speeds. And while I have yet to encounter the mutant cannibal enemy types – those with tentacle appendages – there’s still some eerie moments in the game like the corpse-filled cave or exploring the environment at night.

While The Forest is a very impressive Early Access game, it is still premature and only fun up until it stops working. The player’s interaction with the cannibals is at first exciting, but mechanics which should work in the player’s favor to keep them alive are either not functional yet or implemented into the game. If the goal of the game, as it currently stands, is to survive as long as possible, players will be hard pressed to do that as the game is just not ready for that yet.

I fully believe The Forest has potential to be an amazing game, but I personally will not be playing it again until it has made significant strides in development. There’s just too much that doesn’t work yet, and that’s OK; it’s an Early Access title and its functionality is as advertised.

The decision is yours as to whether or not you want to purchase the game now to help support its development, or hold out for a more complete and functional survival experience.

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