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How A New PvP Horror Game Plans To Prevent Players From Being Jerks

Forest Hills: The Last Year is seeking to build on the franchise's "good bones" while fostering a well-behaved community.


The asymmetrical horror genre has exploded in recent years. Formerly a space inhabited by Dead By Daylight (DBD) almost exclusively, it now includes several major counterparts, such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, and Hunt: Showdown. Go a level deeper, and many horror-adjacent games, like Predator: Hunting Grounds and Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, capture similar gameplay mechanics in less spooky settings. The genre is old enough now that a number of competitors have come and gone already, such as Friday The 13th and Evil Dead.

One name dedicated players may recall is Last Year: The Nightmare. Originally, the 5v1 horror game was developed around the same time as Dead By Daylight, with crowdfunding kicking off way back in 2014. In some alternate universe, it might today be DBD's biggest competitor. But a slew of unfortunate circumstances led to the game never quite establishing a solid foundation.

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Now Playing: Forest Hills: The Last Year - Official Teaser #3 | Fear Never Dies

Launching in 2018 exclusively on Discord during the brief period in which the messaging app tried (and failed) to take on Steam as a PC gaming marketplace made community-building highly improbable. Players rejected the Steam alternative, as they tend to with seemingly all others, which, for a multiplayer game like Last Year: The Nightmare, was a death knell. In 2019, a move to reinvent the game for Steam with a new name, Last Year: Afterdark, also wasn't able to capture the attention of more than a small, albeit passionate, group of players. In 2020, the pandemic led to a prospective publishing deal collapsing at the eleventh hour, which tore up the game's content roadmap. Combined, these unfortunate missteps ultimately killed the studio, Elastic Games.

But from its ashes has risen Undaunted Games, a studio composed of about 20 people, some of whom worked on earlier games in the franchise. Together, they're making Forest Hills: The Last Year, technically the third attempt to turn this franchise into a hit, only this time without the baggage of its predecessors. The name, Undaunted, comes from the team's refusal to quit on this particular IP, studio head Matthew Itovitch told me in a recent conversation. This is emblematic of the team's wider and unwavering intent to get its asymmetrical horror game into the pantheon with the genre's titans.

"The reason we originally picked up the [intellectual] property is that we've always had faith in The Last Year," Itovitch told me, adding that Undaunted feels the game at the core of this years-long saga still "has really good bones." Forest Hills: The Last Year is made under the assumption that such a future is still possible. Thus, keeping the original name in the game's title is a nod to the core of players who saw similar potential in earlier iterations. The team isn't running from the name.

"We're still paying homage to the original content that was there that people grew to love as they were playing it," brand coordinator Brooke Eyler told me. "But in addition to that, it's Forest Hills: The Last Year. We are expanding; it's not just a school anymore. It's a town. There are multiple locations you can explore. It's not just a singular instance of play. It's an entire world now."

Forest Hills takes advantage of Unreal Engine 5, including some of its most dazzling features like Lumen lighting, which Eyler said should make the game "more immersive" than the past versions. The game will forego an early-access period and launch directly into 1.0 on Steam this October, with seven maps, six Fiends (killers), seven Displaced (survivors), and more new features never before seen in the franchise.

Typical high school problems include homework, SATs, dating, and fending off relentless monsters.
Typical high school problems include homework, SATs, dating, and fending off relentless monsters.

The team has already laid out a content roadmap that is "pretty much planned all the way to 2026," Eyler revealed. Ramping up with better tech, as well as more maps, heroes, and monsters, seems like the right idea, especially since Forest Hills will debut in a genre much more crowded than it was when the franchise first tried to plant its flag. "The space is very crowded," Eyler said, "but I think it's important to recognize how different all of these games are." In terms of mechanics, atmosphere, and objectives, there really is a lot of variety.

So what sets Forest Hills apart? "You think of cult classics, you think of '90s slashers, how they have these cult followings of people who are so invested in them and think of them so fondly," she said. "We're leaning into the camp of '90s horror, and we're leaning into fostering those communities within our own personal space so that you can hop on the game, you can play with your friends, and you can feel not only like you're involved in this horror setting, but also like you can laugh about it alongside your friends as well."

Eyler didn't cite specifics, but seasoned players are likely familiar with toxicity in the genre. Dead By Daylight's community has a reputation for being hostile and "sweaty." I recently went back to it myself after some time away and received hate-mail immediately after my first match, which I found to be a bit too on-the-nose.

I wondered what causes these PvP horror games to get that way sometimes--DBD isn't alone; it's just the most notorious--and what, if anything, Forest Hills might do to prevent hostility in its community now that it finally has a chance to properly build one. "We're leaning into that humor [and] levity. And hopefully, the levity is able to buoy it above any kind of toxicity that might be laying underneath," Eyler told me.

In Forest Hills, survivors can work together to craft things in the game such as weapons and support items, and they can even fight back to take down the killer, which isn't often an option in games like this. The team hopes these mechanics may also lend themselves to fostering a healthier, happier community of horror fans.

The Fiend will oppose a team of five players, but they'll have special abilities and AI allies on their side.
The Fiend will oppose a team of five players, but they'll have special abilities and AI allies on their side.

"We're trying to encourage people to work together, "she continued. "Whereas maybe in other games, it's very killer-versus-this and if I'm bad as the killer, it means I'm bad. If I'm not killing them, it means I'm bad. So I have to do whatever it takes to tear them down. And this isn't about tearing people down. This is about having fun. It's about helping not only yourself, but helping your team to get out because you're not helpless. In Forest Hills, you can fight back, and I think that does lend itself to a bit more cooperation, and a competitive spirit that might be a bit more fun because the killer doesn't feel overbearingly powerful."

That crafting system is uncommon in this genre, and it's joined by other uncommon or unique mechanics. For players controlling the villain, they'll be able to swap among a few different killers mid-round. This allows for greater gameplay variety, as the ghostly warlock offers different strengths and weaknesses than the venomous spider or the relentless slasher, each of which can counter or be countered by the opposing team on the fly. It reminds me of moments in a hero shooter when a particular character or team composition isn't cutting it, so you switch it up to approach the bout from a new angle.

Even those surviving teens, each of them playing off of high-school tropes like the jock, the nerd, and the popular girl, are decoupled from specific builds, so two versions of the same character may play quite differently, which should even the playing field when the monster on the other side thinks they know who they're getting in any given round.

With several misfortunes in its past, Forest Hills clearly has the franchise's best shot to date to make a name for itself. Despite the franchise's "good bones," The Last Year is a name previously associated with false starts and failed do-overs. Now, however, on a new engine, on the right platform, fostering a good-natured community, and offering a lot more content out of the gate, Forest Hills: The Last Year could embody the spirit of an unkillable slasher. Just when you think it's dead and gone, it's resurrected and bloodthirsty once more.

Forest Hills: The Last Year is coming to Steam on October 22, with a console launch planned for 2025.

Mark Delaney on Google+

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