The plane smashed in the middle of some mysterious place, trees on every side of me. I clung to my axe and began looking for supplies, anything would do right now. After chopping down several trees, I constructed a crude shelter. As I looked down to view upon my artisan craftsmanship, I noticed something odd about my head.
This should give you a pretty good idea about how far into development The Forest is. It’s one of the earliest-access “early-access” titles I’ve come across in a while, so anything said here is likely to be addressed in future updates and should be taken with a grain, or twelve, of salt. With that being said, if all the kinks are worked out, and the exploding corpses stop exploding and killing me, The Forest could join the ranks of Don’t Starve as a survival game worth your time… Or not. The premise of The Forest is ‘procedurally generated survival horror’, but it’s pretty weak when it comes to executing each component individually.
The main ‘horror’ of the game is the presence of the cannibals, roaming around menacingly and accidentally walking into fires. They’re probably the biggest thing that sets The Forest apart from other survival games since they’re not as one-minded as zombies, but not as evil as other human players. The AI (for what it is) is frakkin’ awesome; cannibals will lurch at you, taunt you, climb trees, and flee when you slay their friends; assuming it works the way it’s meant to. The problem is that they’re still fairly easy to take care of if you’re paying attention, or constantly moving, and don’t actually pose a threat beyond trying to whack you in the face – which alleviates a lot of the tension they cause.
What’s a lot more horrifying, however, is where all of the other passengers of your crashed plane went. Scattered around the place are the mutilated and half devoured carcasses of lousy flight attendants and annoyingly loud people that once sat next to you. Their baggage is strewn around, as well, which you can crack open to get some cloth or a tennis ball. There’s no supplied backstory to them yet, but I’d love to see them fleshed out a little. Then there’s the underground section with secret entrances across the map that you end up in when you die – home to the real horrors. You’ll find hanging blue bodies, caverns filled with skulls, and Silent Hill aberrations; with nothing more than a lighter (or a torch if you’re lucky!) to allow you to witness the monstrosities dormant in the difficult to navigate hell hole you’ve found yourself in. The problem is that there’s no reward or motivation to ever seek these areas out yourself, so you eventually just go back to chopping wood and chilling amongst the trees.
The survival part of the game is also pretty lacking, due in part to the procedural generation. The first thing you’re prompted to build are a shelter and a basic fire so you can sleep and stay warm. Once you build them, survival is no longer an issue. Food is everywhere in the forest, whether it’s in the form of berries, rabbits, lizards, or energy bars from people’s baggage – and if you’re ever too far from home, you can build another one very easily. It’s definitely satisfying toppling a tree or hunting down your next meal, but that’s also all there is to do. You’ll never be short on supplies since everything that’s procedurally generated occurs with such frequency, and in such density that you’ll run out of room to horde it all before needing to eat. Ultimately, survival feels more like a chore than a challenge.
Of course, all of this is primarily because half the game hasn’t even been finished yet. The second half of your survival manual (aka, crafting recipe book) has been locked off until it gets made, materials alluded to in recipes don’t exist yet, the save/load function isn’t exactly solid, and the game feels more like Lumberjack Simulator 2014 than a survival horror game – in its current state. The appeal of The Forest exists solely in its potential; as fun as chopping down trees and fighting 3-man groups of cannibals every 10 minutes is, I can see the anarchic hordes of mad men coming to mess up my base, the elaborate traps set up by myself and them, the carnage ensuing from disturbing the natural order of things. It’s there, it just hasn’t been implemented.
There’s an appeal in becoming the monster I see only in my most vivid and distressing nightmares in this unpoliced, unpopulated wasteland; so flourishing with life, but lacking in society… However, I can’t cook limbs yet. The game is headed in the right direction, but it’s simply too incomplete to properly judge. What’s currently been implemented is definitely impressive for an alpha, but it’s barely worth your investment in time and definitely not worth $15 right now. Give it a couple months and then give it another look. Hopefully, the cannibals will still be as hungry for you as you are for them… And hopefully, you’ll have a head, too.