Let me tell you a little story about my adventure trying to stay alive in The Forest, a fantastic new open world survival game that is currently the top-selling game on Steam.
This isn't a happy tale, but I hope it gives you a good sense of what playing The Forest is like. Note that there might be what some consider "spoilers" in here, since this is the sort of game where discovering how to survive is the entire point.
In any case, the tale begins like this: there I was, sitting on a plane, trying to kill time by watching a movie or something.
I looked around, and the plane was mysteriously empty...save for a kid. My kid?
Suddenly, the plane ride got turbulent. We're crashing, holy shit! What happened??
Somehow, I survived the impact -- but when I opened my eyes, this guy was standing in front of me. Uh....
He grabbed the kid (my kid?) and just left. The fuck? Was he going to raise the kid as one of his kind? Was he going to eat the kid?
Well, I wasn't even sure that was my kid, so whatever I guess. I had to figure out what I could take from the plane crash. Luckily (and morbidly), there was an ax wedged inside a flight attendant that I could use. I pressed E and my character equipped it. OK. I was armed, at least. Though the dude that appeared earlier didn't really seem to care about me, so maybe I won't need the ax for defensive purposes...?
I found food. Normally, in-flight food is the worst, but in this context, having it around seemed like a godsend: I was low on energy and my character was hungry. I needed to survive above all else.
I looked at my stash in my backpack by pressing "I." I had a lot of booze, some soda, an ax, a lighter, and a survival guide. It looked like I could use this menu to craft stuff as well, but I didn't really have much at the time.
I took a closer look at the survival guide and wondered if planes actually come equipped with these things. You know, just in case?
This is a clever tutorial, I decided. So it looked like in order to survive, I needed to scavenge my surroundings for stuff like sticks, rocks, logs, and other such materials. First order of business, like many games of this kind, was to build a shelter and a fire.
It also looked like I really needed to pay attention to the land to make sure I wasn't picking up stuff that could be harmful to me. For example, there are different kinds of berries...
OK, cool. When I got out of the plane I felt a little confident about what I needed to do and how.
There was a bunch of luggage littered around the plane, and thankfully I could use my ax to open the locked ones up. Most luggage seemed to have stuff like booze, snacks, soda, medicine, and sometimes less usefully, tennis balls. People pack weirdly in this world, forreal.
The land also seemed full of animals. Naturally, I saw if I could kill anything -- and sure enough, bunnies and lizards could be killed and skinned for their meat.
I was busy trying to salvage as much as I could, when suddenly I spotted a person off in the distance. Uh oh...
Shit, there's more of them. OK, I had to stay calm...
I remembered that I had picked up some cloth, so I wondered if I could use it to craft a molotov cocktail. Sure enough, I could! This made me feel a little better about the creepy people that were slowly circling my position.
They seemed contemplative, like they were trying to decide if I was a threat or not. Or maybe they were wondering how good I would taste. Well, ok, whatever -- they didn't seem to be attacking, so I decided to build a fire.
And I tried cooking the rabbit I killed earlier, because why not?
I even started building a small shelter. The wildlife was a big fan.
The survival guide said that I'd need logs for some stuff, so I tried seeing if my ax could whittle down some trees. Sure enough, the dingy little thing could -- though it seemed to take quite a few whacks.
Trees seemed to give me around 3-4 logs, which was more than enough to build some of the basic, basic stuff.
I'm not really sure how this shelter was supposed to keep me safe, but, uh, sure. I'm not a wilderness person, ok?? At best, I've read The Hatchet.
After building a rudimentary fire and "shelter," I checked out what else I could make. It seemed like the game would allow for a variety of things, provided you could get the right resources.
Like traps! Those might be useful, right?
Hmm, boats. This caught my eye right away, since I kind of assumed I was on an island -- or at the very least a boat would provide transportation away from the strange folk who inhabited this forest.
And then...what the fuck? Did I write this? Why is this a section in my survival guide? Why in the world would I need to build this stuff?
That page kind of unsettled me, but I didn't dwell on it too long before one of the forest folk got brave and approached me. He wasn't friendly. I tried to take him down with an ax, but he and his buddies quickly overpowered me. I went down, hard.
When I woke up, everything around me was dark.
I still had my lighter, though. The forest people had taken me inside a cave. And the cave was full of dangling bodies. Cripes.
These bodies apparently belonged to my fellow passengers, only the plane at the start of the game didn't have anyone in it. (This is an early access game, remember?)
Looking around, I did find some useful things -- like an ax and a flare.
I tried finding a way out of the cave, but the deeper I went in, the more unnerved I got.
Shit! They were in there. Of course they're in there.
aaaand they ganged up on me and killed me. Cool.
Well, ok then. I would boot the game up again and this time I tried getting captured right away, since that part of the game seemed like it was supposed to happen. This time, however, instead of wandering around the caves slowly and nervously, I would just run straight out of there. The forest folk still popped up, but I didn't stop for them -- and this worked; soon enough I was staring at the entrance of the cave. Success!
The game was still prompting me to build a shelter -- which seemed like a good idea, except I didn't really want to build anything anywhere near the folks. So I wandered for a bit, and found that the passengers and I weren't the only unfortunate folks to wander through this area...
The game informed me that since I was covered in blood from the caves, I needed to clean up so as to avoid infection. I walked until I found a water source, which excited me -- maybe I could build a boat! Except the game then told me that anything beyond the edge of the water wasn't available in this build of the game. Bummer. It did look pretty, though.
I decided that I couldn't just keep wandering forever; I'd need to build an HQ of sorts. So I found the bottom of a small cliff and started setting up there: I figured this way, no forest people could sneak up behind me, because there's a giant rock there. Meanwhile, in front of me, there was a mass of water -- which would probably be useful, both in that that was another area nobody could use to sneak up on me, and in that I could probably use it for resources.
I built a fire.
I started collecting some logs, and even found some money. I don't really know what the money is for, but...it's there.
Eventually, it did get dark, so I went back to my makeshift shelter.
Before hitting the sheets, I did some light reading -- just to see what else I could build.
The next day, I explored some more. I found this boat. Hmm...
Did I mention that, in addition to my dingy little shelter, I had also decided to build a big-arse cabin? This, for whatever reason, seemed like the most logical thing to do.
At this point, it had been a while since I'd seen the forest people. The more time had passed, the more paranoid I became: surely, they'd show up sometime, right? Whenever I saw a shrub or a small tree in the distance that I couldn't quite make out, I would fear it was actually a gang of forest folk, just waiting for me to let my guard down.
Still, I kept exploring. I found these abandoned structures, which seemed innocent enough...
...until I took a closer look and found this.
Well then. This didn't really help my paranoia out at all. In any case, wandering around a bit more, I found that I could cover my character in mud:
I don't know what purpose this serves. Maybe it would help with my camouflage? Taking on the forest people head on seemed like a bad idea; every time I did so they kind of destroyed me. But I never really found out what the mud was for.
But then I looked back on my shelter and I saw a bunch of forest people, just sort of milling about. Shit! Shit, shit, shit. They know where I live. They have seen me. They have seen me. What do I do? I just sort of stood there, staring at them at a distance, scared that they were going to wait there until I got back. Instead, they left. Not that this gave me any relief, because again: they knew where I lived now. Making things worse, I found THIS when I got back:
What does it mean? Am I marked for death? Is this a warning? Who did this stuff belong to? God, I was fucked, wasn't I? Suddenly, my SUPER STRATEGIC LOCATION didn't seem so impervious anymore. I thought it was only a matter of time before they launched an attack or something.
Sure enough, the forest folk seemed to appear around me more and more...
Eventually, one came up to me with his friends and they promptly killed me. Welp.
So far, even though it's in early access and therefore not done, The Forest seems like it's full of neat ideas -- and even though there are no shortage of survival games right now, this one genuinely made me feel panic in my quest to stay alive. Part of it is the mystery: I don't know what the deal with the forest folk is, and the setting seems to be full of small stories about who has passed by. Part of it is the amount of control the game afforded me; though it suggested I take a look at how to do things, it never told me where to go or what to do or build. That was up to me. And part of it is that I genuinely feel vulnerable, which is the mark of a good horror game if you ask me.
I've gone through the game four different times so far, each one ending in death. I learn a little more each time, and survive a little longer the next time I play. It seems like there's still a lot for me to discover -- and since the game can only improve from here, I'm looking forward to seeing what else the developers add.