The Forest Early Access Review

Running toward nothing.

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GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

It was the nearly naked guy with a flashlight strapped to his head who did me in. I've little doubt that he'd waited there in the darkness by the shore long enough to watch me stumble through my own campfire like an idiot, setting my clothes aflame moments before I prepared to lie down for the night. Relieved that I'd ended that little emergency, I looked up to find him and his two friends illuminated by the soft orange light. And so I died again, satisfied that I'd at least managed to survive two days this time. A record. Such is life in The Forest, a new survival sim available on Steam.

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Shades of BioShock reveal themselves in the opening moments, when the hero's plane falls out of the sky and strands him smack in the middle of a community of nutjobs. (Thankfully, there's no need to worry about water pressure or objectivism.) There's a kid who clings to your arm as the plane breaks apart, but he's taken away by a guy who looks like he last worked as an oliphant teamster in The Return of the King. Is he your son? Your MacGuffin? It's never expressly stated, and 30 minutes into my attempt to build shoddy lean-tos and cook iguanas I realized I'd briefly forgotten the tyke even existed. I suspect he'll pop up later, since I have to watch him get taken away from me every time I start the game anew after dying.

It was the nearly naked guy with a flashlight strapped to his head who did me in.

As survival sims go, there are far worse options than The Forest, even in its unfinished state. It lacks the austerity of, say, DayZ, since it complements its statuses about needing food or cleaning off blood before an infection sets in with an unobtrusive UI element that shows meters for thirst, hunger, and temperature. Experimentation is also largely a no-no. Our hero carries in his pocket the world's most comprehensive survival guide (accessible by pressing B), which provides templates for everything from log cabins and weapons to totems cobbled together from the heads and limbs of your foes. All airlines should start carrying this thing.

Crazed cannibals aside, it's kind of a nice life in an Idaho-mountain-man kind of way. The seaside landscape evokes the Douglas fir forests of the Pacific Northwest, and there's even a Mount Rainier look-alike that dominates the skyline from the beach. You can climb trees, and occasionally birds flutter down and land on your arm. Sometimes when the thunderheads start to roll in or the light breaks through to a small meadow, it's worth just sitting there gawping at the beauty. Small trees and weeds rustle and shake just as they would if you hit them with a real axe, and trees fall with a satisfying thud. In time, developer Endnight claims, you'll be able to sample all this in a peaceful mode without the threat of gruesome deaths from the natives. It's an attractive idea, sort of like reliving the story of Christopher McCandless but with the chance of a happy ending.

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But as much as I hate to admit it, The Forest probably needs its barely clothed antagonists. They add a necessary dose of tension to every action. Maybe, I'd think, I could get about eight logs by chopping down that tree. The problem is, it might draw their attention. Ambling out onto the beach to scavenge for supplies? You're so exposed that it's always a risky venture. I also like the way cannibals move. These aren't idiotic zombies; they circle around you, trying to stay in your blind spot to catch you off guard before charging. Too bad the alpha state of the game often gives them an unfair advantage; I once swam out to sea in an attempt to escape, only to witness one of them walking under the water as carefree as you please. It didn't end well.

Fortunately, that doesn't always mean dying. Sometimes the cannibals drop you off in the back of a cave, where you wake up next to a poor fellow who's had his intestines yanked out through his T-shirt. Here, too, the unspoken narrative gets a little muddy. Dozens of bodies hang upside down from the cave's ceiling, and jumping up and touching them--hey, I was curious--triggers something to the effect of "1 out of 160 Passengers Found." Were these the passengers on my plane? Aside from the boy and a flight attendant with an axe buried in her chest, the plane was empty during the crash. It's ultimately a small complaint since they do little else besides hang there, and at any rate, you have a cave to escape.

I suppose you could die in the attempt, but I never have. The Forest reveals the presence of enemies with the subtle stroke of an autoharp, usually providing just enough time to prepare. One time after being captured, I chanced upon a gang of three cannibals blocking the exit to the cave, but I was able to kill them by blasting them with some starting pistols I'd found and chopping them with my trusty axe. Good thing they left me with all my supplies when they captured me (and I'm still not entirely sure if that was a bug).

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Escape, and you live to fight another day. Or at least a couple of hours. The Forest currently piles on the enemies a little too thickly, to the point that it's difficult to go 10 minutes without seeing one. This is a problem when you're building stuff. Case in point: I've never been able to survive long enough to sleep in a shelter I've built and thus save my progress; the cannibals always find me first. (I hear that sleeping is bugged right now anyway.) My death in the opening paragraph? That was but moments before I'd planned to sleep in the little hunter's shack I'd just finished. Developer Endnight Games might do well to limit thine own appearance of cannibals based on whether it's night or day.

The Forest is a nice counterpart to DayZ's heavy emphasis on interactions with other players. Here, it's just you against the world. Given time, the game might even be great. But right now the glitches are almost as common as the cannibals, whether it's little stuff like seeing logs float well away from where they're supposed to be when you're building something or more pressing concerns such as the water-walking baddies. Only seconds after I booted it up for the first time, I was stuck in a rock-bashing animation that couldn't be fixed without a full restart. It's a lot better than you normally get with games labeled "alpha" these days, but it's an alpha nonetheless. Now if you don't mind, I'd like to get back to playing.

What's There?

A single-player survival game that pits you against the trials of the wilderness and some hungry cannibals.

What's To Come?

Possibly a multiplayer or cooperative mode, but Endnight wants to deliver a different "feel" than DayZ and Rust.

What Does it Cost?

$14.99

When Will it Be Finished?

There's currently no concrete release date.

What's the Verdict?

Despite its cannibals, The Forest delivers a survival experience that feels more "real" than many of its counterparts. You hunt, build shelters, and fight in a beautiful world that's oblivious to the action. It's largely playable in its current state, but you might want to wait a bit for the team to iron out some significant bugs and glitches.

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