Preview: The Forest (Early Access)

Editor’s note: The Forest is an EARLY ACCESS game on Steam. What is Early Access? Basically you pay money to play the Alpha state of certain games, games that are mostly still in progress of development. Expect bugs, glitches and a completely unfinished state with Early Access. What is the appeal of it? Well, it lets you get a glimpse of certain games that you may be excited for, and lets you test out the mechanics before a final release. Think of it as a paid demo experience.

Is it unfair to critique a game in such an early state? Well, we at Press Start think that if a game has the galls to ask for your money, than by all means it’s fair to review it. If people have to pay for it, then we’re allowed to critique it. However, this review will not follow traditional methods as usually done on Press Start; no score will be given. I will sum up my thoughts on The Forest and you will decide if Early Access is worth your time.

One day. No, not even one day, more like 6 in-game hours. That’s how long I lasted in my first playthrough. After setting up the scene where you are on a plane to parts unknown with your infant son in tow, the plane quickly crashes onto an unknown island, where upon waking up, you see a eerie figure pick up your son and whisk him away. So there is a plot, but right now it’s very threadbare.

Quickly picking up an axe that had ended up lodged in a poor flight attendant’s chest, I spent my first playthrough wildly chasing after the pesky cannibals who had absconded with my precious child, first attacking and somehow succeeding to kill one. But that victory was short-lived, as somehow two more popped up. And another two. By the time I was desperately running away as much as 6 of those cannibals were chasing me, one with a headlight and some sort of shrine on his back, and another with decorative arms around him, giving him the eerie look of a spider.

So I died. And that was the only time in the game where I died due to my failure. The next half dozen times were all due to the game’s shocking amount of bugs and glitches. Again, this is an Alpha state so I was not surprised about the amount of bugs, but it still led to completely sullying my experience with a game riddled with as much potential as it had bugs.

The survival aspect of The Forest is brilliant. Using your trusty axe to chop down trees is a satisfying experience, and while you need to chop down big trees to amass logs to build shelters and defences from the enemy, knocking one down will surely attract the attention of the indigenous species. It’s a delicate composition of knowing where to set up camp and how delicately you should build defences. Even in its Alpha state, you can build a shockingly high amount of objects; several types of shelters from the basic tent to a fully fledged wooden cabin, fires of different sizes, rafts, walls, traps and eerie human effigies to ward off the cannibals.

Unfortunately, because it’s still so early in development half the objects don’t do anything. Traps were terribly ineffective with enemies running right through them, and effigies seemed to have zero effect in warding them off. I soon found out that fire was the greatest friend I could have in this harrowing survival, as molotov cocktails led to a near instant death for the pesky enemies, and with careful trickery of the AI, I could make them run over my fires and cause them to die via self-immolation.

The titular forest itself is absolutely incredible. The game runs on the Unity engine, but I have never seen it like this before. The forest feels alive; birds flutter around and sometimes land on you, rabbits and lizards scuttle away from you, the breeze and the swaying of leaves is so realistic that you can nearly feel it, the seaside landscape looks so calm and peaceful that you nearly forget that there are tribes of cannibals out for your blood.

But forget you won’t, as the game absolutely piles on the amount of enemies. It’s a real shame that you’re given no time to really set up defences, as I was forced to rely on glitches and trickery of the engine in order to even survive past day 1. As aggravating as the cannibals are, it’s a good thing they’re in the game, as they provide a much needed sense of urgency and fear that contrasts well with the peaceful nature of the forest. How many trees can you get away with chopping down before they come around? Can they see where my camp is? Lighting a fire at night is essential to stay warm, but doing so will raise their curiosity. The AI is quite impressive even at Alpha stage, and I hope to see general improvements given to the tribe, and maybe a balance in aggression, as I found myself dying far too early in game due to the sheer number and unflinching attacks from all directions.

Die in a new game and you’ll be given a second chance, waking up in a terrifyingly dark cave reminiscent of The Descent. Covered in blood, navigating dead bodies hanging from the ceiling, it’s clear that this is a cave for feasting on human remains. Passing these dead bodies lead to an odd notification to pop up: ??/130 Plane Passengers Found. Odd as the entire plane was empty in the introduction. I’m sure they’ll fix this in the final release. Escaping out of the cave is a great experience, as I found the slow steady drips of water mixed with the tight rock formations leading to an immense sense of claustrophobia. Clawing my way out armed with nothing but a lighter and an axe is a great feeling.

You can pick up a huge amount of things in order to build objects; rocks, sticks, animal skins and bodies to cook, sodas, alcohol, cloth, tennis balls to distract cannibals (which is currently broken at the moment as they completely ignore them) and leaves to stoke fire and presumably use as toilet paper. Unfortunately the Alpha state once again kicks the game in the teeth, as I found my inventory constantly disappearing and changing. On saving and quitting I had a full inventory of rocks, sticks, soda’s  and human body parts (don’t ask) but upon loading I had lost them all. It’s infuriating as those human heads are so difficult to gather. I built a log holder to…well…hold my logs, but currently I cannot put anything in them. Worst of all: the physics engine is wonky as hell, which could easily stab you in the back. I had made it up to day 5 and was feeling pretty great. I had built several walls to hold off enemies, I had set up a few traps which didn’t even work but made me feel great, and I had a few fires lighted in order to trap those pesky cannibals. But upon chopping up their body (which is needed for the effigies) the force of the physics engine caused a body part to ricochet into me, perplexingly propelling me thousands of metres into the air, and upon landing caused instant death. The survival aspect is great fun, but there are so many things that are still not working.

If I could sum up my experience in The Forest it would be: incredibly broken yet tantalizingly promising. The severely broken nature of the game doesn’t convince me that Early Access is a good thing, but there were so many good things about The Forest that it’s convinced me that the final product will be very, very good. Maybe when The Forest enters Beta stage, it will provide an experience marred with less frustration, but for now, I recommend waiting for the bugs and glitches to be fixed. But keep in mind that if the development team play their cards right, they could end up crafting one of the best survival-horror experiences ever.