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The Lighthouse Customer: The Forest

Helter Shelter

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Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, fighting savages while becoming one in survival-horror crafting game The Forest.

Interesting how priorities can change. Two days ago, my crafting goal was to build a log cabin. Today, I’m more interested in assembling a tower of human body parts. Of course, the day before yesterday — when I was a civilized, practical person pulling myself out of a plane wreck in The Forest — was a long time ago. Things have happened since then. Things. Now, I’m a wild-eyed, blood-spattered maniac, my body half-plastered with lizard skins, tightly gripping a rusty axe and slashing at anything that moves. On the plus side, I only need one more dismembered head to finish today’s crafting project! Whose will it be?

Rewind. Day one. The airplane I’m on crashes in the woods on a remote island. Horrifying, but not as horrifying as what happens when I briefly awaken and get a look at a nearly naked man decorated with tribal facepaint making off with, I assume, my young son. Still, I’m calm. I’m ready. I know the drill. Collect supplies. Feed myself. Pull that axe out of that flight attendant’s torso and start cutting down trees. Survival always begins with cutting down trees.

The punishment for using your Kindle during takeoff is super severe these days.

I sort of had a thought while playing Rust a month ago, and that thought was, “Okay, you know what? I never want to chop down another goddamn tree in a video game ever again. Like… I think that’s enough of that. I think we’re done with that. Forever.”

If a tree falls in the woods and there are only a bunch of filthy cannibals around...

I’ve gone back on that concept, though, first last week while playing DayZ’s experimental branch, because chopping down trees in DayZ hints at some sort of future survival mode that goes beyond simply putting bullets in people’s heads in Berezino. And now again, in The Forest, where chopping a tree down is actually fairly satisfying. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because you can see the cut you’re making in the trunk getting bigger and bigger before the tree finally, slowly falls over. or, maybe it’s because you can heft two large logs over your shoulder and carry them around. Maybe that’s all it takes.

No need to follow the 'home' icon, just look for the weirdly huge cloud of birds.

The crafting guide I’ve shrewdly brought with me on the airplane shows a number of things I can build: campfires, storage containers, and different levels of shelters, from a simple lean-to to a full-on log cabin. There are additional pages that hint at more to come. For now, I build my shelter and crawl inside. When I awaken it’s completely dark. It takes me a moment, with my eyes adjusting in the dim moonlight, but I realize someone is standing a few feet from me, staring at me, eyes glittering in the night.

Some stars behind the trees. And two in front. Staring.

Um, ha-ha, NOPE, I think, preparing to crawl right back into my shelter and wait for daylight. But the woman watching me does something unexpected. She runs away. She flees from me, darting away into the trees, and that makes me bold. Bold and dumb! Boldly and dumbly, I follow the retreating filthy, topless woman into the forest. Naturally, I quickly find myself surrounded by several other members of her tribe. I find myself first battered unconscious, then I awaken in their cave of horrors. This appears to be the home of a cannibal tribe. Lovely.

Maybe games do desensitize us. All I thought was, 'What's his shirt say?'

I gather what I can, including a second axe, and find several of the plane’s passengers in various states of dismemberment. Then I try to find my way out of the cave using only the illumination of a plastic lighter that occasionally blows out and has to be *fssht-fssht-fssht* flicked back on. One time I *fssht-fssht-fssht* flick it back on and, hey, there’s someone standing there.

Relax, dude, I'm not lighting a cigarette. I'm not some monster.

That’s awful! That is an awful thing. I hack and hack and hack with my axe until he falls down. I stare at his weird naked body since I didn’t get much of a chance to while he was standing. His hand moves, raises, toward me. I hack him roughly twenty more times while making some sort of noise like nehhhhhhh (not in the game, in my actual mouth) then flee, finding my way back to shelter as fast as my legs will carry me (not very, especially with such a quickly-depleted sprint meter).

Molotov cocktails, human body parts... the perfect picnic.

I guess this is Day Two. I’ve been scavenging on the beach, where I’ve built my shelter. I start searching the nearby woods and I spot, through the trees, four cannibals just walking around. Oh, shit, what? They come out in the day, too? That’s not fair. I’ve been thinking of them like Minecraft monsters, only skulking around at night, but they’re just walking around in the sunlight like they’re not horrible cave-dwelling cannibal monsters.

Look at them, struttin' around like this is their ancestral home or something.

I also discover they don’t just dwell in caves, they have a little village. This is terrible news, because I’ve essentially built my camp right in their neighborhood. I scurry back to the beach, figuring I need to explore more, to find a safe place to camp. That’s when the attacks begin. The natives patrol the area, a lot, and when they spot me, they come running — unless just one of them spots me, in which case they go running away and come back with others.

One at a time, I can handle. I just keep hacking away with my axe, though I usually wind up injured and have to heal with meds found in spare airline luggage. In groups, the cannibals become incredibly difficult to fight, taking turns falling back and attacking. Repeatedly, I have to run into the ocean to escape, catching my breath on an abandoned sailboat that has gotten itself stuck just offshore. I discover I can craft molotov cocktails using airline booze and rags, and I manage to burn one cannibal to death on the beach. I hack up their dead bodies to make sure they’re really dead, and find I can collect the body parts to craft an “effigy,” a sort of grotesque statue to warn them away from my camp. (You can also use limbs as bludgeons.) This seems like a good idea. I should build an effigy.

Build something with your own two hands and several of someone else's hands.

Day Three. They keep attacking. All the time. I can’t do anything, can’t build anything, they’re everywhere, and I keep having to escape to the sailboat. I’m out of rags for molotovs and I’m out of food and frankly, I’m out of patience. I’m also one head short of completing my effigy, so I’ve decided to invade their camp for a change. I’ve killed some lizards and stuck their bloody skins all over my body as armor, because that makes sense to me at this point. I scout the cannibal camp for a bit — they have their own gruesome effigy that I’m envious of — and I spot the tribe walking away in a line, out on patrol. I sneak in and start stealing their stuff, which mostly consists of charred corpses, luggage, and other odds and ends from the crash. Then I notice they didn’t all leave. Three of them have stayed behind.

I don't know why I can't just join them. I'm just as horrifying at this point.

It’s over quickly. I’m dead, having survived three days. Is it for the best? I mean, another day and I probably would’ve become a cannibal myself.

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Christopher Livingston

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