More than five years in the making, The Forest is finally ready for PlayStation fans to brave its brutal horror survival sandbox.
Not to be confused with 2016s woeful horror flick of the same name, The Forest is a gruesome survival game with plenty of depth and no shortage of scares. If youre at all familiar with the genre then youve probably heard of The Forest already, as its spent a prolonged period in Steams early access programme before officially launching back in April. Its only now, however, that The Forest has been made available on console, arriving exclusively on PlayStation 4.
You play as one of the only survivors aboard a plane that comes crashing down in the middle of nowhere – a remote stretch of untamed wilderness, enveloped by dense woodland, marshes, rivers, and mountains. Your son is also spared but as you begin to regain consciousness you see him being dragged away by a naked, gore-soaked figure.
Thats about as much direct narrative as you can expect from The Forest. Theres nothing here that resembles a linear plot, though there are a string of breadcrumbs that help fill in some of the history surrounding this perilous peninsula. These, combined with the intro cut scene, actually go beyond what most survival games do – simply dropping you into the game with nothing to explain why youre there in the first place.
The Forest keeps hand-holding to an absolute minimum. Within seconds of starting the game youre set free, crawling from the wreckage with nothing but an axe, a few cans of soda, and whatever leftover plane food you gobble down before leaving the battered fuselage behind. Those first 20 or so minutes will be spent gathering sticks, stones, logs, and leaves to craft the bare necessities – a brief three-step tutorial explaining how to do so.
Animals including crocodiles, boars, and sharks can pose a threat but its the cannibals you need to be wary of. These ghoulish creatures pour from an underground network of tunnels at night alongside mutants, multi-limbed monstrosities that look as though theyve come straight from John Carpenters The Thing. Theres a decent spread of ranged and melee weapons to fight back with but dont expect the first person combat to feel particularly dynamic or engaging.
Organically, youll start to get a feel for the games combat system, as well as its mesh of survival mechanics which monitor your health, thirst, and hunger, before starting to think of the bigger picture. Exactly what that is depends on a) your imagination and b) how much time youre willing to sacrifice.
Whether its The Forest, Rust, Dont Starve, Conan: Exiles, or the myriad other games of this ilk, they all follow the same pattern. Crafting becomes the main focus as your initial makeshift basecamp begins to morph into something much larger, where youll be safe from the horrors that come for you at night.
Theres a surprising amount of depth and customisation, with some structures being purely decorative, some self-sustaining (such as plant beds and rain collectors), and others used to defend your territory. Thankfully, no matter how grand your designs are, the games intuitive building interface is simple to use, allowing you to sketch out a 3D blueprint then fill in the blanks by depositing the required resources. Its a clever construction system and one that eschews a dreaded mess of menus to sift through.
Whatever your megafort ends up looking like, actually finishing it will take a fair amount of busy work. Literal hours of mundane button-bashing, extracting resources, then ferrying them back to base, and all while staying adequately fed and watered. This grind is endemic within the survival sandbox genre and can be off-putting, even though developer Endnight has made efforts to streamline some of the more menial tasks.
The only way to truly offset this is by taking the game online, inviting up to three fellow survivors to join you. Its the best way to experience The Forest and whether youre the host or a joining player, your progress can be saved and picked up later. Therefore, instead of surviving just a handful of days these sessions can be revisited, growing into communal projects you can work on for days and weeks.
Theres something special in that, though other sandbox survival games have been doing the same for years now. In the time it has taken The Forest to finally step out of beta there have been plenty of DayZ and Rust-a-likes, all similar in design and all looking to cash in on the genres growing popularity.
Keeping its own game in the oven was a risk for Endnight but its one that has ultimately paid off. While inherently grindy and familiar in premise, The Forest boasts a much higher level of polish than its competitors, along with crafting systems and survival mechanics that are more intuitive and approachable. It may not mark a new evolution in the world of survival sandbox but it is certainly one the most refined frontrunners.
In Short: A brutal, albeit familiar, survival game thats thoughtfully designed and elegantly refined, and as a result easily the best game of its type on PlayStation 4.
Pros: Intuitive building and crafting mechanics embedded within a world that feels truly dangerous. Co-op multiplayer is well implemented.
Cons: Significant in-game progress demands hours of tedious resource gathering and grinding. Few genuinely new ideas.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and PC
Release Date: 6th November 2018
Age Rating: 18
By Jim Hargreaves