By Kimari Rennis
“Why am I doing this to myself?” is the first thought that came to my mind when I started up The Forest – because I knew what this game was all about. The same phrase replayed louder in my head when the title screen showed a man hanging upside down in a dark, damp cave filled with human skulls. This is what I signed myself up for. The Forest, which was just launched after being in early access for so long, is a an in-depth survival horror game where you face off against cannibals.
Although I didn’t care much for the story behind The Forest, it starts with a plane crash tearing the plane in half. You wake up after the terrifying event covered in blood, and hazily look up to see your passed-out son, Timmy, being held up by a cannibal as if he’s about to be cradled in his arms. Then the cannibal walks off with Timmy. You dust yourself off, salvage some supplies from the plane, and go out into the wilderness. Your goal is not only to find your son, but also to survive in the dense, mysterious forest filled with cannibals.
What’s really unique about The Forest as a survival horror game is that, rather than defending yourself against devilish monsters or zombies, you instead go against your own kind, who have gone mad with hunger. The cannibals’ presence in the eerie wilderness is something that just sticks in the back of your head as you play. You need to be mindful of where you set up your camp. While you explore the woods, you’ll encounter swarms of bats exiting from a dark cave, sculptures and morbid shrines made out of the mangled bodies of the passengers from the plane you crashed in. There are even huge wooden structures with empty nooses and rotting bodies splayed out on the ground, along with the suitcases of people who tried to escape. It makes you live in fear no matter where you camp. You can be attacked by five cannibals in the middle of the night or in broad daylight, with only a hatchet to defend yourself.
There’s more to The Forest than just fighting off humans who eat other humans. While you are making sure you don’t get jumped by people in the woods, you need to make sure you have all the necessities of life to endure the mystery and horror within this game. Using the hatchet that you find on the crashed plane, you chop down trees and carry the logs to fortify a little shelter wherever you decide to camp. Although it seems very wrong, you would do anything for survival, including smashing open the missing survivors’ suitcases to get supplies. The sticks, rocks, and leaves that you gather in the woods are what will allow you to craft traps (for both cute rabbits and ravenous cannibals), build places for storage, and make a variety of tools. You can build boats, shelter, and other devices to assist you in your survival deep in the woods.
There are a few things that would make the game even better. The Forest needs to be more brutal, especially for the feel it’s trying to convey. The cannibals are not the only threat present in the woods; there are crocodiles, sharks and wild boars that charge at you. But these are just slightly bigger meat sources. They do very little damage, they’re pretty pathetic when it comes to ferocity and they are easy to kill. The crocodile lazily jumps and snaps at you as if you’re touching an annoyed chihuahua’s tail. In my playthrough, I debated keeping one as a pet because it stopped attacking me altogether when I hit it. There is rarely any need to go in the water to even encounter a shark, and giving a quick love tap on the head of a boar is all you need to make it go away after it rams you on the shin.
Deep inside caves below the surface, you can encounter the most deadly and horrifying types of mutated cannibals. Some walk on four times as many legs as you have, and have five times as many arms protruding from their heads! To make this a more well-rounded experience, The Forest needs big aggressive grizzly bears that know how to put up a fight, and wolves that keep the deer population in check and hunt you down. Having more than one kind of threat in The Forest will definitely put more stress on the player along with the fear the player has from every mutant in the woods, attack in the night, and disturbing sights from the cannibals. That would boost the effectiveness of your efforts at “survival” and the “horror” your feel as you endure its creepy clutches.
The Forest makes me want to go camping but stay in the safety of my home at the same time out of fear. I’ve always had a love for survival games. But dealing with a threat that could potentially be real creates a whole new experience. Unless I get confirmation that a forest is not hosting any of these mutants and cannibals, I won’t be going on any outdoor field trips for a while.
Kimari Rennis is a New York Videogame Critics Circle intern, part of our ongoing partnership with Bronx’s DreamYard Prep School.