I did not intend to write about Endnight Games’ The Forest on this blog. I actually picked up this gem of a game fully aware I would be taking a break from the usual non-violent journey I am accustomed to in a ‘progressive’ game, trading this in for something more visceral and terrifying, with a focus on survival.
Nevertheless, having now sunk in over fifteen thrilling hours to The Forest, I feel that I have to mention it.
The game takes place on a remote, heavily forested peninsula where the main character is the survivor of a plane crash. You are thrown into danger from the start, with hunger and thirst a constant thorn in your side, and no guidance on where to go or what to do next. Night is fast approaching, with shelter a priority.
In a mad dash – reminiscent of a competitor in the Hunger Games first arriving at the Cornucopia – I scramble about the immediate area, breaking open luggage and collecting everything I can find, from clothes to cans of soda.
The game boasts stunning visuals throughout. I was immediately struck by the atmosphere of the place, as the wind shook through the trees and animals scuttered around in the undergrowth. It was a haunting, yet beautiful scene. As I would go on to discover, this is where the game’s greatest achievement lies: in its ability to cleverly combine vistas with a feeling of loneliness, beauty and fear, all at the same time. The game truly oozes atmosphere at every turn.
To my relief, I soon found myself approaching what seemed like a village of wooden huts. But soon my relief turned to fear. I nearly leapt out of my chair as a horrific, animalistic howling broke the silence, screeching through my headphones. In the distance, I could make out a naked humanoid running through the trees, reminiscent of one the vampirical creatures from the science fiction classic, I Am Legend.
I did not wait another moment but turned and fled in the opposite direction until I reached the coast about five minutes later. It was growing dark by this point, and with trembling fingers I gathered enough sticks and leaves to build a temporary shelter. To my relief, I awoke the next morning unscathed.
I felt strangely comforted by the proximity of the cliffs and decided to follow them for a time. Eventually, I found myself beside a secluded outcrop with a narrow way in and out. Eventually, this is where I decided to build my main camp.
As time went on, I grew more accustomed to the game’s sophisticated building and crafting system. Before I knew it, I had sunk about six hours into gathering logs on a wooden sled, until at last I had built a wooden cabin, a protective wall, several rain collectors, and the addition of a drying rack for meat and animal skins.
I had managed to avoid stumbling across any more of the strange mutants, finding solace in my familiar routine of hunting and settling beside the fire to watch the sun set. During this time, I felt a constant emotion that few games have managed to replicate since I first played Myst at the age of seven years old. It was an ever-present unease and tension that the atmosphere would be broken at any moment, by a monster darting from the trees.
It may sound laughable, but I used to believe the same thing would happen in Myst. Try to remember, this was one of the first games I ever played at a young age, in the innocent times of the early 90s, when we had yet to understand the rules and limitations of video games. Never mind that Myst was essentially a slideshow of still images, in the imagination of my young self, anything could happen. Coupled with the deep mystery and lack of instructions, such games can easily morph into a subtle, fearful experience.
To progress the game, you are eventually forced to explore the rest of the island, where slowly the vague storyline comes together. If I had to pick a fault, I would have liked to see more story development, perhaps in the form of journals or tape recordings. However, the other elements of the game more than make up for this.
As I finish this post, my character has just discovered a rope leading down a hole in the earth. As my climb into darkness continues, I can see that the developers were clearly inspired by the chilling cult horror film The Descent. In this film, a group of explorers make their way through a vast, forgotten cave network underground, which soon turns into a nightmare as they stumble across the creatures that lurk beneath.
I will not spoil the game further, except to say that if you crave a truly absorbing game experience this weekend, then you could do worse than picking up a copy on Steam. It is also worth mentioning that The Forest also includes a ‘Peaceful’ mode for Prog.Gaming purists who would like to eschew the more violent aspects of the story…