The Deforestry Commission: A Return To The Forest

In checking up on the affecting and devastatingly difficult The Long Dark, and the underwhelming Stranded Deep, I ran into the same issue. After many months, I returned to these early access survival sims to find the same silly, easily fixed issues persisted, despite enormous great chunks of new game being added in. Not so with The Forest [official site]. This is a game that, each time I go back, seems to have leapt leagues forward. Although, to be fair, it’s somehow been over a year since I last delved into this part-serene, part-terrifying world. Gosh, it’s good.

The Forest was there first with its plane crash opening, before Stranded Deep did something almost exactly the same. Except in The Forest, after an effective and dramatic unscheduled descent, you watch what is presumably your son get taken away by a strange, pallid-skinned tribesman. Once on your feet, there’s a fire axe to grab, the remains of the plane to pick through, and a forest to explore. But you’re not alone.

A year ago (how can it possibly be last August that I was last playing it – can someone please stop spinning the clock hands forward so quickly?) this meant a game in which your every moment was spent in constant terror of sudden attack from these strange locals. You could be merrily getting on with the business of building yourself an unlikely log cabin, when suddenly screaming naked lunatics clobber you from behind. It worked – it created a sense of dread. But it also never felt quite right considering the efforts that were going into letting you otherwise focus on survival.

There’s still danger. Those odd folks are very much still around. There are more of them, if anything, walking in groups, hanging around creepily, and worst of all, standing in a semi-circle around your camp, just staring. But their desire to attack seems much reduced. In fact, on the couple of occasions where one has let loose a blood-curdling cry (really, it makes me squirm and panic, leaning in closer to the screen as I search around for them, frantically looking for routes toward my fire), when I’ve found them they’ve been crouched down, trembling, making a peculiar gurgling noise. They didn’t hit me, so I haven’t hit them. I’m sure they’re building up to something, but for now we’re leaving each other alone.

Which affords me time to build a medicine cabinet! There are some rather pleasingly silly inclusions in The Forest’s magic book of crafting templates. Because you’ll quickly fill your inventory with sticks, rocks, pill bottles and cans of pop, it’s nice to have somewhere to put a few down. Although quite why the enormous medicine storage can only cope with five pill bottles I’m not entirely sure. My shelves of snacks manage a slightly better twelve spaces. In fact, the area around my campfire is beginning to look a bit like an open-air corner shop.

The customisable building options have greatly expanded, letting me build treehouses, rope bridges, even a gazebo! I’ve deforested the surrounding area and have a completely useless gazebo! You can also build a houseboat, apparently, which seems like another ambition to keep in mind. And right now I’m working on my treehouse. The other form of crafting, taking place by experimentally combining items in your inventory, has also become more elaborate, letting you create a range of weapons, tools and equipment.

But wait, what? I’m stranded in the forest and I’ve got so many pill bottles that I’m complaining about shelf storage? Yes indeed, the strangest bug of The Forest still persists, with the endlessly spawning suitcases by the crashed plane. Return after a bit and all the ones you’d previously opened are gone, and a brand new collection of brightly coloured cases will have apparently fallen out the sky. As bugs go, it’s a very useful one, assuring you have plentiful meds, drinks and choccy bars, but still, odd that it’s still there.

The other wonderful bug that remains, and thank goodness or I’d be distraught, is the one that causes some objects to fly up into the air when you approach them. Cardboard boxes, especially, will bounce around merrily on the beach, providing me much entertainment. Don’t fix this one, Endnight, please!

Oh, and there is so much more wildlife. Birds land on my shelter (well, almost, they’re currently a bit floaty), while raccoons and squirrels gambol around me, and deer tentatively trot between the trees. There are still the lizards, rabbits and turtles, although all seem to have been dramatically improved, looking damned real. In fact, the graphics generally seem to have taken a huge step forward, with the game looking almost photo-realistic at moments. It’s a phenomenal achievement using Unity, and you can really see the visual effects skills the team brought with them from the film industry.

And it remains the best tree cutting game in all of history. Last week’s update promised big improvements here, and gosh, they deliver. When it works, there’s such a real sense of your swing deciding the position of the cut, and the trunk chips away very satisfyingly. That the tree SPROINGS into individual logs once it hits the ground does end the illusion rather abruptly, but is awfully convenient.

I’ve not looked at the multiplayer mode, because screw having someone else spoil my forest, but it appears from the patch notes that huge steps have been taken here since the initial launch last November. Including great lines like:

“(multiplayer) Fixed mutant babies disappearing for clients when they die”

While there is obviously concern over the way some early access games are handled with regards to updates, no such issues arise with Endnight. The team are releasing significant updates every fortnight, each coming with both new content like buildings, crafting items, and animals, as well as deeply detailed bug fixes and tweaks. With over one and half million copies sold, there’s a huge audience out there, and they seem to be working their butts off improving the game for them/us. What’s more, they seem to have perfected the food/water need timing, making it feel necessary and of concern, without going down ridiculously fast, or being such an incessant nagging priority that you don’t ever get to play the game.

The Forest has become something really stunning. While there’s still no story to speak of, there’s a good deal to build, customisable buildings meaning you can create your own vast forts, and of course the deeply creepy mysteries of the strange folk, their mutant babies, and being imprisoned in their hideous caves. This is early access done superbly, and the resulting game is rather special.

22 Comments

  1. Xzi says:

    Interesting, one to keep my eye on. Maybe not my favorite genre, as I’ve been discovering in ARK, but not entirely the same type of game, either. I do prefer Don’t Starve, so if this shares more similarities to that, I’d be happy.

    • PenguinJim says:

      I picked up ARK, The Forest and 7 Days to Die in the summer sale, and have sunk dozens of hours in each.

      ARK, despite costing >$20, is by far the poorest of the three. Ridiculously time-wasteful and crazily unhelpful – I would frequently die for seemingly no reason, and there’s no decent (or working?) corpse retrieval system. The taming is absolutely terrible. I don’t particularly mind – it’s still an Early Access title. We’ll see how it’s doing in Summer 2016.

      The Forest did brilliantly for me, in single-player. In a 12-hour game you can have a tense, exciting experience, and it barely felt like a single minute was wasted. It was consistent quality. At $10 it’s an easy recommend – especially with those graphics. At times it’s like a graphics card tech demo, and (unlike ARK) they aren’t just throwing effects in seemingly for the sake of it – everything is consistent and works together.

      But the winner was 7DtD – not only was it the cheapest (thanks to splitting a 2-pack), but the Minecraft-style construction combined with the zombies and persistent and tense time management and the thrill of new discoveries and finding a great place to set up base all come together extremely well. I played it single-player, I played it co-op, and either one is easily worth the $10. The graphics aren’t great, but everything else ticks the boxes.

      • Cinek says:

        Ridiculously time-wasteful” – if you play in a single player then you can control just how time-wasteful game is. I set up my server in a way where at no point I felt it was a “grind” while at the same time still feels like a survival game. # “I would frequently die for seemingly no reason” – out of all my time in the game not even once I died for “seemingly no reason”. I got no clue what you are talking about. If anything – Forest is the one where you can die for no apparent reason, but even then giving it more of a thought helps figuring out what happened. # “ and there‚Äôs no decent corpse retrieval system.” – there is one, you just need to go and find your corpse before it decays (which is… 10 minutes on my server, don’t know about other). No automatic magical retrieval, it’s a survival game.

        In a 12-hour game you can have a tense, exciting experience, and it barely felt like a single minute was wasted” – funny, cause I got totally opposite impression. Played it for… 4 hours or so, felt like these were the 4 hours I’ll never get back. Buggy, mediocre game with shit popping out out of nowhere, and more pressure put at avoiding death every 100 meters than anything else. Also: pseudo-zombies – I’m sick of zombies.

        7DtD” – zombie survival, the most lazy kind of all. And to make that even worse – it’s a voxel-based game, I really hate these time-wasters.

        Funny how opinions can be totally different, huh?

        • Orageon says:

          Haha, someone took offense, how sweet.

          Yeah funny how opinions are. I also prefer 7dtd, but ot be fair I haven’t played the Forest, just seen many ‘let’s plays’.
          I tried Ark too for the free weekend, with friends who own it and know how to roll. It is a nice game for sure, more original than the zombies of 7dtd, but I have much more fun in 7dtd, mainly because you know that every 7 days a fcking big horde is coming specially for you.
          Ark ? ridiculous map and plenty of bugs tend to spoil the experience a lot for me, so I think I will check it out later.

          But the tone of your message, it looks like Ark is your lover and you took offense that someone had good fun with it, and for good measure you quickly despise and dismiss the game where he had the most fun (7dtd). You probably didn’t even play it ? Time to chill a bit, dino-hugger ;)

          • Orageon says:

            by ridiculous map, I mean minimap, along with how to locate friends and so, easily. Not the actual map/terrain which is good.
            Ark still needs a lot of work and they keep adding dinos (which is nice), but I hope they fix some of the many tech issues they still have, or other dubious design decisions. Has potential though !

          • PenguinJim says:

            ARK certainly seems to attract a special breed of person. ;) It’s impossible to say anything at all negative about the game without some ARKhole showing up and saying that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the game! I didn’t have a bad time with the game overall, and I’m looking forward to where it goes – it’s just not as good as The Forest or 7dtd… yet! (And as you say, they keep adding dinos instead of improving the game itself – but, again, I don’t mind! It’s Early Access! I’m patient!)

            It does seem that ARK is a better game if you devote 60+ hours to it each week, though – I was in a rush before and forgot to add that it might be a more enjoyable game for unemployed, single people.

  2. Brinx says:

    This game had one of my favorite patch notes. I believe it was “Cannibals shouldn’t be able to run underwater.”
    So simple, so elegant.

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      teije says:

      That’s excellent. CK2 has the best patch notes of all time. Head over to the Pdox forum to read one sometimes – always a blast.

      • grimdanfango says:

        For a continuous curated supply of the most amusing patch notes, keep an eye on link to twitter.com :-P

      • Javier says:

        The best? Nah, that title still belongs to Dwarf Fortress. Just from the other day: “We had a dwarven dancer become so talented a century into one world gen that he invented his own complete dance form, and the bold inventor decided to pattern the motions of the dance on a troglodyte attack he suffered in his youth. This important knowledge was then passed down to several students and then out into the world via a performance troupe.”

        • Orageon says:

          That is one fine example of what makes dwarf fortress, in addition to a somewhat hermetic but astoundingly great game, a generator of stories, of history, of tales. I love this stuff.

        • GHudston says:

          Dwarf Fortress has always had the most incredible bugs and patch notes. I distinctly remember a bug that was causing rain in warmer climates to reach temperatures high enough that dwarves caught outside would melt. There was also a time when war dogs were so terrifying that they would flee from themselves and when the most feared monsters in the world were carp.

  3. Giftmacher says:

    As someone who just completed their second playthrough of Amnesia and was frankly not that bothered by the monsters, I have to say that the monsters in THIS game have never failed to repulse and terrify me, even after a year of playing. They’re just so brilliantly *wrong*.

  4. TillEulenspiegel says:

    the same silly, easily fixed issues persisted

    OK, I’m sorry, but this is exactly what annoys me about a ton of games journalism. You haven’t seen the code. You probably haven’t thoroughly considered precisely what needs to be fixed, and what the consequences of that will be.

    Never claim something is “easy” if you haven’t already done it yourself. It’s disrespectful. This is something you see a lot from novice software developers; oh sure you can implement something that basically works like Twitter over a weekend, and then spend the next several years actually making it work properly.

    • klops says:

      When a games journalist mentions bugs like endlessly respawning suitcases easily fixed in a game with a scale and depth of The Forest, he is not being disrespectful. He is doing his job.

    • grimdanfango says:

      I think this is somewhat indicative of a larger problem – often they’re problems that logically *should* be simple enough to fix, but I suspect that previous rushed development can back a dev into a corner where particular quirks get effectively hard-coded into the game, and can’t readily be addressed without literally rebuilding the core of the game from the ground up.
      If things were always built in an ideal, fully-modular structure, niggling issues like these would be simple to address, but the reality is almost never like that.

      A quote I came across a while back that pertained especially well to my own industry, applies to game devs too I think: “If you don’t have time to do it properly now, what makes you think you’ll have time to go back and fix it later?”
      I find that it’s often best to take even the earliest of early-access games at face value – if there’s a glaring issue at the core of the game at that point, it’s pretty likely that same issue will be baked-in for the entire length of the development.

      • Unruly says:

        Except that software development is a lot like prototyping. You have an idea, and you think you’ve figured out how to make it work, so you put the parts together and try to make sure they fit and work right, but a lot of the time they don’t. So you keep refining the parts until it all fits together and works the way it’s supposed to.

        What you said basically amounts to “If you can’t do it right the first time you try, you shouldn’t do it at all.” Which is the wrong way to think about things. If people followed that train of thought, we’d never get anything done. So you do your best to make it work, find out what went wrong, and then you try to fix that problem the next time around.

        • drinniol says:

          No, what he said amounts to “You can do things quick/easy, or you can do things right”.

          • Llewyn says:

            Indeed. But unless your customer operates in an environment where anything other than “right” is too costly to contemplate (ie you’re developing for manufacturers of nuclear reactors, aircraft etc) you can only ever afford to do it quick/easy.

            You may get lucky and get things right as well. If you have a great deal of talent on board then you may get lucky pretty consistently. But basically the choice between right and quick is one between definitely going out of business and possibly not going out of business.

            (And yes, this is obviously a very broad generalisation.)

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      John Walker says:

      Thanks for your fury, but I’m referring specifically to things that are *easy to fix*. Like correctly naming an in-game item, or lowering a numerical requirement. I’m not pretending to know how difficult it would be to fix something like spawning suitcases (although in that case it’s my job to wonder why it hasn’t been addressed in over a year).

      So yes, the reason I referred to things that can be easily fixed is because I was talking about things that are easily fixed. But you know.

      • Unruly says:

        The constantly spawning suitcases may simply be a means to make sure players have access to certain items. Like meds. Yea, you can make your own meds now, but you couldn’t at first.

        My guess is that, eventually, they’ll change the respawning suitcases to only be on the beach. That way it’s not as jarring as finding a whole new pile of them at the crash site or the scattered hikers camps, because they’re now washing in and out with the tide. Sort of the way that they have bottles of booze spawning in on the beach already.

  5. moms says:

    Though I do play (and enjoy playing) The Forest in multi player with pals, I enjoy, even more, playing it alone. In fact, I credit this game for, almost single handedly, turning me into a reclusive, single player, in general.
    There’s just something about not having to worry about whether or not some stupid move I might make will put my dear friends at risk. (Though, I doubt they will ever notice this noble gesture.)
    But, I digress.
    When in The Forest solo, I play in vegan mode (no hostiles.) I suppose it’s wussie of me, but then, it is an option that the game offers, so screw your judgement. ( Besides, I am my own worst enemy, having fallen off cliffs, and brained myself to death with flying rogue logs, and such, on many occasions.)
    My utimate plan is to build a shit load of faciities and traps and then switch into ‘meat mode’ (full hostile) and go all genocide on their asses.

    Oh yeah, I kinda like the consant spawning suit cases, and have never considered them a glitch.