The broad premise of The Forest is far from unique. A plane crash lands on a seemingly deserted island, and you, a lone survivor, have to figure out a way to survive. It doesn’t take long, however, until blood curdling screeches fill the night and glowing eyes appear in the distance. Once it sets in that your new home isn’t as empty as it first appeared, The Forest evolves into a uniquely harrowing adventure that you won’t soon forget.
Cannibals inhabit the grassy fields and pristine lakes around you, watching your every move; they are the source of The Forest’s ever-present tension. You might expect monsters like this to attack on sight, but their behavior is erratic. Sometimes they’ll charge forward to unsettle you during daylight but stop just outside striking distance to simply stare in silence. Other times they might feign a retreat before leaping into nearby trees to quickly get behind you. The Forest’s enemies aren’t easy to predict, which makes each encounter thrilling.
The breadth of enemy types is impressive too, and they can get surprisingly weird. As you explore the island more and dive into terrifying, pitch-black caverns, enemies transform into terrifying body-horror figures–amalgamations of appendages that bellow deep, disturbing howls. They’re frightening to behold and even scarier to fight.
The Forest does a good job of trickling out these surprises while you’re already struggling to manage vital meters and resources. It’s also imperative that you keep a close eye on the quality of the resources you find. Not every berry bush contains a bounty that won’t poison you, and not all water is safe to drink. Meat you gather from hunted animals will rot if not cooked quickly. None of the resulting illnesses are serious enough to dissuade you from eating questionable food if you have no other choice, but needing to think about what you eat adds an additional layer to the minute-to-minute hunter-gatherer gameplay.
Chopping down trees for logs or scouting a route to clean water is paramount in your first few days on the island, and once you establish yourself, this goal shifts to fortifying your position with a base, and perhaps complex spike traps and tree swings. The sheer number of structures you’re able to build is impressive, and thankfully The Forest doesn’t gate your ingenuity with illusive blueprints. You’re given a notebook filled with outlines at the start.
Building has a tangible effect on the island in several ways. Resources like small game and shrubs will respawn over time, but larger trees will remain felled for the entirety of your stay. You might turn a dense forest into an open field of stumps not long after you start, which gives enemies a clearer line of sight into your doings. The more you impose yourself on the island, the more aggressive your aggressors become. Patrols will grow and the more monstrous creatures will emerge from their caves for an all-out assault. The Forest doesn’t force you to play in any specific way though, so a more reserved nomadic approach is sometimes safer and more viable. But the sheer delight at seeing an enemy trigger a well-placed trap during a raid is priceless, and well worth the risk of angering the locals.
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to surviving in The Forest, but the balance between each of its interlocking parts keeps the game moving at a riveting pace. For every danger the island offers, there’s a smart solution around the corner.
Crafting smaller items plays a big part when it comes to personal safety, too. Your inventory screen allows you to combine items you’ve collected to create new tools; from something as simple as combining a few sticks and stones to make an axe, to creating high-powered explosives using a combination of wristwatches, electrical boards, and spare change. The number of items you can both collect and craft is vast, but the inventory page eventually becomes cumbersome and overwhelming to navigate. And with only four customizable hotkeys, you don’t have easy access to everything you want in a pinch.
Although it’s constantly testing your perseverance and wants you to feel stretched thin, The Forest never feels overbearing. You’ll always be able to depend on your crafted weapons as they aren’t hampered by durability. Your pocket lighter will always help you see in the dark, never running out of vital fluid. This reliability frees you from the burden of worrying about the lifespan of any potential upgrades you can make to items too.
Exploration in survival games is usually tied only to your immediate well-being, but The Forest features a narrative that’s slowly uncovered by exploration and incidental environmental storytelling. Abandoned camps are a great hunting ground for modern resources and offer hints at past and present events. Putrid remains of long-dead victims aren’t an uncommon sight, but you’ll also come across small photographs, videotapes and magazines that flesh out a conspiracy with the island at the center.
Uncovering The Forest doesn’t have to be a lonely experience, and it offers co-operative play for up to eight people. The time spent getting a fortified settlement up and running is drastically reduced, but remains just as compelling. Co-operative play does, however, deflate the the feeling of being exposed. Larger groups of enemies become easier to deal with, and the fear of diving into caves alone is undercut by both voice chat and the fact that enemies don’t scale accordingly. The Forest might be silly fun with friends, but it’s at its best when playing alone.
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to surviving in The Forest, but the balance between each of its interlocking parts keeps the game moving at a riveting pace. For every danger the island offers, there’s a smart solution around the corner. Combined with unpredictable enemies and captivating horror set-pieces, The Forest strikes a compelling balance between survival and horror that you won’t soon forget.