Picture this – you’re on a flight to somewhere nice with your kid (Disneyland, say) and before you know it the whole thing goes to total shit; the plane crashes on an island filled with cannibals and the last thing you see before you black out is some creepy dude covered in blood, walking away with your child in their arms. What do you do?
Well, in The Forest your path forward is clear – you scavenge supplies from the wreckage of the plane, rob items from the luggage of the deceased and then go about setting up camp and becoming self-sufficient all before day turns into night while you hatch a plan to try and find your boy. This is The Forest, and it is without question one of the most terrifying and inventive survival horror games ever made.
The Forest puts the horror back in survival horror
Built to the same design blueprint as games like Ark: Survival Evolved and Conan Exiles, The Forest is largely about collecting materials, crafting stuff and generally ensuring that you don’t die horribly in the process of doing so. As such, the experience will prove initially familiar to players that have cut their teeth on those aforementioned games, but where the Endnight Games product diverges from those two titles is in how legitimately, pant-fillingly scary it is.
In large part the fear that The Forest radiates emanates from the clans of cannibal mutants that you’ll come across on the island. Patrolling the island during both day and night, these monstrous hominids are an absolutely grotesque, yet deceptively complex lot to say the least – though you’ll likely witness their numerous, repulsive works in the form of displaced limbs, dissected corpses and flesh-stretched effigies long before you see these creatures in person for the first time.
The Forest has the most complex set of villains you’ll likely ever meet
Rather than just being a bunch of one-dimensional AI-powered goons stumbling over their own feet, these particular nasties are actually governed by an interwoven system of beliefs, natural instincts and sophisticated behaviours that make them both more dangerous and more fascinating than other enemies of a similar ilk. In short, these dudes be capable.
In the beginning, and as an accidental interloper, the denizens that inhabit the island will initially treat you as a mild curiosity – something to be stared at and occasionally shouted out, but little more beyond that. Stumble into their encampments and you can expect a much more aggressive response and from here, it isn’t long until these cannibals expand their patrols and look to track you down for something more than just a stern word.
Of course, you can react in a wide range of different, wholly satisfying ways. You could, if you wanted to, take a lone cannibal unawares – killing them and disposing of the remains far away from the watchful eyes of a patrol, keeping your presence on the island a secret for longer and thus providing you with ample time to fortify your position.
In another scenario, you could simply mind your own business – employing careful stealth to purposefully avoid the cannibals and their families, while you forage materials from around the island to begin constructing your own stronghold on the island to facilitate a long-term stay.
Somewhat terrifyingly, there is also a distinctly Nietzschean theme to how the player interacts with these cannibals too, since once killed, players can do more than just dispose of the bodies. If so inclined, they can eat the various limbs and organs of their fallen foes for sustenance, and use their bones and leftover skin to craft items, weapons and base materials – effectively turning them into the very monster that they hate in the process.
In the end, how you deal with the cannibals is entirely up to you and the fact that The Forest gleefully provides such creative latitude in this regard, ostensibly marks it as one of the cleverest survival horror titles on the market. However, and this is important; what you do in The Forest will always, always have consequences that come in one form or another.
Consequences are threaded through every aspect of the experience
Take for example, the idea of consuming your enemies. While on some level, it would seem to be the efficient thing to do (a calculating mind might well reason that the cannibals are little more than mobile stacks of materials), coming into prolonged contact with the blood of the cannibals and mutants on the island can have an adverse affect on your character, which if left untreated over a long enough time period, can manifest debilitating symptoms and conditions.
Then there’s the notion of escalation. Kill a single cannibal in plain sight and a family will come in their stead to avenge them. If you build a fortification to protect yourself from the family, then the cannibals will start to send some of their harder hitting brethren; monstrously deformed mutants that are hugely strong, fast and difficult to kill in order to bring you down. Every action in The Forest is weighted in this way and must be considered duly lest you end up separated from your mortal coil in quick fashion.
At its core, The Forest is indisputably a survival simulator and in this discipline it shines. Crafting of course is the cornerstone of any survival sim worth its salt and in The Forest it has been implemented both with accessibility and depth for days. With a nifty handbook that tells you what materials you need to craft a variety of different items and weapons – feathers can be added to arrows to make them fly faster, teeth can able attached to sticks to provide additional damage and so on; there is never a shortage of things for you to kill, harvest and create on the island.
Beyond its sophisticated crafting system, The Forest very much embraces the survival side of things with the well-being of your island castaway being something that must be managed closely. Players are required to regulate their hunger, thirst, stamina, and temperature throughout the game but it’s hardly the micromanagement chore that one might expect as all of these things can be addressed through simple common sense (rest to restore your stamina, hunt animals and fashion coats from their skin to stay warm etc.).
The Forest is drowning in polish and is one of the smartest games of the year
Pointedly, there are a range of goals to achieve in The Forest that exist beyond the orbit of its survival sim beats. Don’t forget, the chief reason for your agency in the first place is to discover the location of your child, though other objectives such as discovering the fate of the other passengers can also be achieved along the way. To this end, The Forest also boasts multiple endings as well; providing players with even more reasons to replay a game that already has near imperceptible levels of depth.
Speaking of depth, The Forest also allows multiple players to try their hand at surviving on the island, permitting the creation of persistent structures that reappear each time you login. In this vein, players that build together also adventure together too and having a bunch of friends building and the defending a fort from a horde of marauding cannibals proves to be quite the thrill indeed.
Then there’s the fact that if you look past the sheer impressiveness of its innovative design, The Forest reveals itself to be a supremely polished effort, too. Not in the least afflicted by the raft of glitches, game-breaking bugs or poor performance that have previously blighted the likes of Ark: Survival Evolved, The Forest is quite simply one of the best put together and outright terrifying games you’ll play on your PS4 this year.
Review code supplied by publisher.
Published and developed by Endnight Games, The Forest is available to buy on PS4 right now.