Fighting off cannibals, setting traps, trying to survive, and the pursuit of more weapons has gained The Forest attention in the survival gaming community. I’ve been playing The Forest for a while but it’s not for the faint of heart. Originally launched on May 30, 2014, recent updates have moved the game into the world of Multiplayer with players now able to play on dedicated servers together. Before, players had to be invited to another person’s game for a co-op session instead of logging into a server. Being a fan of the survival genre myself and having followed The Forest for a while, I wanted to share my insights on the game as it stands right now with a preview.
The Tension Builds Up from the Opening Sequence Onward
The premise of The Forest is basic compared to other survival games I’ve played. The player starts out as a father who is on an airplane with his son to some unknown destination. There is a freak accident that causes the plane to crash onto the island and the last thing the character sees is their son clinging to them before they inevitably black out.
When the father (the main character the player is playing) comes to he sees a red cannibal pick up his son, glance at the protagonist, and walk away. Other players who join either the server or another person’s game will get a different view as the passenger. They’ll still see the red cannibal picking up a little boy, but they will also witness the father crawling to get his son back unsuccessfully. From that point, it’s up to the father and the other players to work together to solve the mysteries of the island and get the boy back.
The AI of the Cannibals is Impressive
When I came across The Forest for the first time one of the aspects of the game that struck me is the AI, with the AI of the cannibals being passable at best. They would often walk into torches, burning themselves alive, or leap at the player if they were standing behind a campfire. Avoiding them simply involved lighting a bunch of fires and just staying in a safe point while occasionally hacking and slashing.
Now the cannibals have not only been improved but they’re much smarter and dare I say it? Eerily intelligent and realistic in how they approach players and the strategies they use to combat them. During the first few days when players have emerged from a plane crash, the cannibals won’t make an appearance. Once 2-4 days have passed the cannibals will begin to make their presence known. They’ll approach the player and make feints or lunges to see how they react.
Players who run away will find themselves pursued by the cannibals who will continue to go after them until the player has been able to lose them in the undergrowth or they turn and fight. Players who go on the offensive will find the cannibals are ruthless and may risk facing a larger party for attacking so early on. Other players who stand their ground, dodge, and block when attacked may find cannibals leave them alone for a longer period before they start to attack again.
I’ve done a mixture of both and it’s disconcerting how quickly the cannibals not only catch on to the player’s strategy but how they utilize ways to exploit their weaknesses. When I built a base, I would constantly see small parties of cannibals or a lone scout approach my base, run along the sides as if investigating, and if I moved down to attack would run away. Next time the cannibal would return with reinforcements who would then systematically attack my base and go for weak points. Even when I would lay down multiple traps and constructed obstacles to guide their pathfinding, they would still find weaknesses in my defenses I didn’t even know about.
The Building System is One of the Best I’ve Seen in a Survival Game
Building systems can be finicky in any survival game and it’s one of my favorite aspects of the genre. I love being able to build a massive base with multiple ways to get in and out, a back garden, lookout towers, and anything else my mind can conceive to build.
The Forest features one of the best building systems I’ve seen in a long time and that is coming from having dealt different kinds from other survival games like Rust, Conan Exiles, and even Ark: Survival Evolved.
The Forest does feature a few basic building blueprints players can set down when they’re learning how to survive. These range from basic items like skull lamps and fires to a full-blown cabin and even tree houses and platforms. This gives players the option to set down a basic base of operations they can retreat to when the cannibals arrive and start collecting supplies in (mostly) relative peace.
Players can also set down their own blueprints and design their bases to fit their specifications. This includes being able to build foundations in odd designs, working it around obstacles, deciding if walls should go in a certain place, or just making use of The Forest’s autofill system to add another layer to an existing structure. While I will admit it takes a while to build anything of substantial size, players can see their progress. The Forest tells players exactly how many supplies they need of each material like logs, sticks, and even rocks to complete a structure.
The Caves are Terrifying (And You HAVE to Go into Them!)
Probably one of the most terrifying aspects of The Forest, besides the cannibal AI, is having to step down into one of the many dank caves scattered across the island. The caves have been updated in the last few patches and we’ve even seen a few added in for players to discover.
Players must go into the caves to gain better items that are stronger, block better, or offer a faster way to chop down trees to build bigger bases. The caves can range from claustrophobic, walking forward with nothing more than a lighter as a source of light, only to hear the scream of a cannibal up ahead and see a pale, gaunt leering face appearing only a few inches away in the darkness. I’ve had my fair share of jump scares this way and booked it out of the cave, deciding the upgraded item I needed, like the Modern Axe that is heavier and cuts down trees faster or the Katana that is used for faster slashing but does less damage, could wait. Obtaining these means going prepared with Molotov cocktails, dynamite, armor, and any other essentials needed to survive a zombie attack.
Different Modes of Gameplay
The move to servers for The Forest is a huge change in the game since it means players don’t have to wait until their friends come online to continue playing a game. One of the drawbacks of joining another player’s game hosted on their own machine instead of a dedicated server is people can only play if that person’s computer is still online. Meaning that if something happens like the person’s machine crashes or they decided to shut down for the night, everyone else’s progress is halted.
Dedicated servers obviously stop this issue so players who team-up with each other can continue to gather, build, and fight cannibals as they see fit. While it’s still relatively new, it’s a development that has been made for the better. Even for players who choose to stick to the co-op mode of The Forest, another aspect I admire about it is different modes of gameplay.
There are three to choose from called Vegan Mode, Meat Mode, and Hard Mode. Vegan Mode and Meat Mode refer to turning cannibals on and off in the game and can be switched between during singleplayer and multiplayer campaigns. Hard mode is an increase in difficulty with cannibals having increased health, are more aggressive, and the appearance of cannibal mutants making an appearance more often.
Not for the Faint of Heart
The Forest is an amazing survival game, but it’s not a run of the mill MMO I’d recommend letting kids play. It’s gruesome with the body parts of cannibals being used to make effigies, dead passengers from the airplane being strung up in various areas, and skulls and heads making a regular appearance. This game is not for children.
Not to mention the constant jump scares of hearing cannibals in the distance or the mutant monsters like Armsie, Virginia, and the Cowman who make an appearance a couple of times. Over time I became desensitized to even the most ruthless of cannibals, but when you see one of the mutants for the first time and hear their scream – it does have that effect of making you check out the window if you’re playing at night.
Even though it’s still in development, The Forest is a decent addition to any survival game enthusiast’s virtual shelf. There are different modes to play, it has singleplayer and co-op options, and people who want a social experience can jump onto the dedicated servers.
Related: Early Access, Multiplayer, Preview, Survival, The Forest