The Forest is a singleplayer FPS which mixes Rust-like crafting and survival with a setting more visually stunning than you'd think possible from a four-person indie team. It entered early access on Steam last week, and Adam and Graham spent the weekend shivering alone in the rain (and in the game) so they could bring you their impressions.
Graham: I am slick and naked like a fine young cannibal. LET'S DO THIS. Where "THIS" is talk about The Forest, the new survival horror/Minecraft-alike/singleplayer Rust/early access game that came out late last week.
Does an Adam shit himself in The Forest?
Adam: I'm shell-shocked, confused and handy with an axe, like the sole (?) survivor of a plane crash. I hate forests and want nothing more than to chop them down and make a shelter out of their innards.
I used a '?' there but we're not the sole survivor of that crash are we. The wee lad who gets taken away at the beginning looks like an endgame quest to me. Save the son.
Computer games have taught me to see family members and loved ones as objects to retrieve in high level quests.
Graham: Craftable children. Gather 12 sticks, 8 rocks and 15 logs to re-build your son.
Adam: How much of The Forest have you played, Graham? As far as I'm aware, with limited experience I admit, it's impossible to craft a son.
Graham: I've played Not Very Much, but I've played Not Very Much repeatedly. I don't know if I haven't found its rhythm yet or if it's just quite hard, but it seems quite hard. I'm living a Groundhog Day of my first experience, which was: wake up in the plane wreck, start building a shelter, almost immediately be confronted by a family of Burning Man attendees, and then die in a cave.
Adam: That's my experience as well, although I've only Murrayed my way through it twice.
I wander away from the plane, chop down some trees, struggle to find sticks (HOW DO I STRUGGLE TO FIND STICKS IN A FOREST, HUH?) and then I see some chap running up and down a tree, so I swing my axe at him and then. BAM. I'm in a cave.
Graham: On my last go, I managed to successfully build that shelter, though it didn't make any difference. Partly that's because the save mechanic doesn't seem to be in yet, and partly that's because the Blue Man Group Without The Blue woke me up in the middle of the night to kick the shit out of me.
They are very rude.
Adam: They're either fine young cannibals, Burning Man attendees or the Blue Man Group Without The Blue - not all three. This is outrageous.
I shall now think of them as an army of Tobias Fünkes
I do like the way they approach tentatively. Like they're as frightened of me as I am of them. That's what my mum used to tell me about spiders but I still won't be in the same room as one.
And I shall take the same approach with the cannibals. When I do get round to building a room, I won't let them in.
Graham: Yeah, their behaviour is interesting. I make fun, but I've found them legitimately chilling so far. As in, I got a real chill down my spine when they first attacked me. The way they skirt around your periphery is unsettling.
Adam: Same. They move too quickly to be properly human, or at least that's how it seems. And then they start climbing and clambering, which I absolutely cannot do, and I start to get the willies something proper.
Graham: I keep thinking they're going to Clever Girl me into being surrounded, but there's not yet any tactic to them I can discern. That seems partly that they're deliberately skittish, and partly that they're maybe a bit wonky. At one point a group of them at the beach spent almost an entire day looking out to sea.
Adam: I really love how it seems like just the one has approached and then as you try to track it, another pops up.
Just because they're cannibals doesn't mean they don't feel the soulful call of the sea that every creature with a soul is prone to.
You have a very reductive view of the cannibals.
Graham: I like that they hunker down and hide in the long grass. Also that bushes, at certain levels of distance, have clearly been designed to look like the silhouette of a person. I'm always on edge when I'm playing.
Adam: I guess my main question is, 'what's the point?'
Graham: Don't you care about your craftable son, Adam?
Adam: There's no save function yet and it doesn't seem like there's a great deal to do. So is it worth playing at the moment? I got a kick out of the couple of hours I played but I don't want to go back for a good while.
I care more for my Candy Wife. A reference which maybe two people will appreciate.
Graham: I don't get it.
I'd hold off for now. It definitely needs a save function before it's worth spending the time on. It's a neat little taster at the moment, and those kinds of crafting/survival/empowerment mechanics do hook me, but it's demoralising to lose everything even if you survive.
I also wonder if they've tweaked the balance in light of the lack of save system and the relatively light content.
Adam: Have you managed to escape from the cave?
Graham: No. It's creepy to wander around in there with the lighter, but I always end up confronted by the Fünkes. Except for the one time I was crushed by static geometry.
There are tools to find, like a better axe and a flare gun, but they've yet to assist my journey meaningfully. There seem to be so many of them.
I wonder if it's meant to be a kind of last chance saloon thing. Super dangerous and hard but you can come out with useful tools if you manage it.
Adam: It's very creepy. Reminiscent of The Descent, which is A Good Thing. I've made the same discoveries - a flare gun and a big rusty axe. Oddly, I don't want to use the flares because I'm saving them for an extremely desperate situation, even though I can't save the game. And being trapped in the cave is pretty fucking extreme.
Graham: But I also wonder if they're throwing cannibals at players earlier than they would normally, because the broader mechanics are unfinished and it needs the urgent challenge and 15-minute playtime to stop you hitting the boundaries.
A lot of the difficulty is just not knowing what kind of game it is yet. Have you tried stealthing through the caves? Crouching, moving slow, etc.?
Adam: I think you may be right. I was surprised by how quickly they show up. The first time I saw one was startling - I was going about my business (not literally shitting in the woods, mind) and suddenly there was a man standing in a clearing staring at me. I looked back at him, froze, and then he darted off to the left. I thought he'd gone but next thing I knew, he was back again, behind me. Horribly unnerving.
I'll be honest - I ran through the caves swinging my axe at anything that moved and half of the things that didn't. I was not happy in there and I wanted to leave, pronto.
Adam: Also, when the (Not) Blue Man Group captured me and took me back to their little hole, I whizzed across the entire Forest at ultra-speed. As in, the final blow that presumably knocked me out sent me flying through the air like a cannonball.
I don't think that's supposed to happen.
Graham: The other thing, aside from being thick with cannibals, is that the forest has more animals in it than Farthing Wood. The floor is a sea of rabbits almost immediately, and the don't run when you club and skin their mates.
As soon as I built a shelter, five seagulls landed on it. Four of them resting on the shelter itself, one of them balanced on the face of one of the other seagulls.
Similarly I don't think that's meant to happen.
Graham: But there's a weird balance in it, between realism and visual fidelity and glitches and necessary gameyness. Trees sproinging into perfect logs when you chop them down, for example.
Adam: I've seen what I can only describe as a 'waterfall of birds'. I hacked away at it hoping to feast on their tiny crunchy bodies, but I don't know how to cook birds.
I love the damage when you chop at them (the trees, not the birds). It looks ace.
And then they creak and topple, all majestic and thunderous. And then logs bounce miles into the air. Or the falling tree catches on another tree and spins around for a while.
But you're right, it almost looks TOO real so that the things that don't quite work are a bit distracting.
Here's a thing - I can't remember another first-person survival game in the recent crop that has been single player only. There's something very unnerving, I think, about the simple fact of being the only actual living thing in a world of mechanical monstrosities. 'Mechanical' in the sense that they're artificially intelligent rather than actual machines (they may be machines like the craftable Pinnochio son - question: was Real Boy Pinnochio a cyborg?)
It makes the situation instantly weird and inscrutable in a different way to the inscrutability of DayZ's bizarre fringe players.
Graham: Yeah. It's in some way more alienating. There's comfort in other humans being in DayZ, even if they mean to handcuff you and make you fight for your pants.
The Forest reminds me of Stalker a bit, for the feelings of isolation and strangeness.
Adam: Yeah. The cannibals won't tie to me a lamppost, drain my blood and replace it with rotten kiwi juice, but they might just stand and stare at me. Obscure and alien pieces of code.
Adam: I don't quite get that vibe. I think that's possible because the crafting stuff feels a little bit rote. Within minutes I think, OK, it's one of these games - better get chopping, better start collecting and combining. Takes me out of it a little. Although the same could be said for Stalker's FPS-ness, I suppose.
Graham: I think it was the first time I tried hiding from the cannibals. My shelter wasn't finished and they were becoming more curious of me, and so I climbed back in the wreck of the plane and crouched behind some of the seats at the back. A thunderstorm started outside, and I could hear the cannibals rustling around and the rain falling.
Fear and vulnerability and AI strangeness. And then I clipped through the solid wall of the plane.
Adam: I don't mind admitting that whatever potential I see in the game lies in the naked mystery of those cannibals. They're an odd bunch and I like them.
Graham: They have suspicious minds and may yet drive me crazy, but I like them too. I'm also fond of those rote crafting mechanics; if it's not too laborious to build more complex contraptions, anyway. I like building a base in games, and camping in a forest is good for that. So I can venture out and then (Johnny) come home.
Adam: I like the idea of building a base far more than the act of building a base.
I'm intrigued by the traps though, which were the bit that got me all hot and bothered in the original trailer. All sorts of unplesantness being done to wicked intruders in a way that I found my bloodthirsty parts agreeing with wholeheartedly.
Graham: A trap to remove their head, and then heads with which to build effigies.
Adam: Oh yeah - the effigies, which are contained in a blood-stained and sinister part of the crafting guide.
Who made that crafting guide? Some creepy alternate universe version of a knitting circle?
The idea of the player becoming a monster is neat though. And the way the cannibals act defensive and nervous adds to that. They're like, "why the fuck did you just fall out of the sky in a big burning chunk of metal and why are there a hundred dead birds in that outhouse you're trying to build?"
But then they do have an underground lair full of dismembered people so, hey, they're not exactly the victims in this scenario, I don't think.
Graham: I think maybe they wrote the crafting guide.
Adam: Doilies, origami penguin, pipecleaner gazelle, papier mache gnome, decapitated head shoved into a torso with arms for legs and legs for arms.
Graham: I'm excited at the potential of the game. It's very pretty. It's a bit scary. It's my kind of thing. But I think people should hold off until at least the next beta, which the main menu informs me is coming in thirteen days and some hours and minutes and seconds. But how do YOU feel, Adam Of The Forest?
Should people play it now, or wait?
Adam: I'd hold off. I like jumping in early and seeing how things change but the things that interest me in The Forest are related to the persistence of the world. Construction and survival over time. In the short bursts that it can be played in at the moment, there's very little for me to engage with.
But I'm definitely intrigued. The behaviour of the Fine Young Things will be the selling point, I think, particularly seeing how they interact with structures and an increasingly powerful player.
There's a cooperative mode planned, right?
Graham: Yeah, there is, though I think not until much later in development. I'm not sure how much I want that. Would co-op really improve the experience?
Adam: Well… we should totally go camping together and hold one another, shivering under the stars while skittish flesh-hungry mobs hunt our precious flesh.
That sounds like fun.
But we could always just go to Glastonbury next year.
Graham: Or Burning Man.
Alice: Boo hiss you didn't mention how many weapons there are, etc.
Adam: A FLARE GUN LIKE IN BLOOD.