I’ve had a love-love relationship with The Forest since I first bought it in 2015. At that stage, despite its Early Access state and complete lack of a story, the core gameplay loop was incredibly compelling. I have incredibly fond memories of spending an entire night in the ocean, risking the potential of sharks (which, as I later discovered, weren’t in the game at that point) rather than dealing with the howling horrors that lurked in my base above.
When I eventually built my base and cordoned it off with a defensive wall, I thought I was done. Then Virginia (aka “Legsy”)—a truly horrific creature that’s always terrifying to encounter—smashed through the wall and tore down my hard-built base. It was as petrifying as it was engaging. Fast forward a couple of years, and I revisited The Forest with a few friends, playing around 20 hours over the course of two days. By this stage, The Forest had a story, and that story had us hooked.
Despite the addition of a story, I have other friends who’ve played and love The Forest but who have no idea about the core storyline. Sure, the plight of your character is obvious from the start—save your son Timmy, who’s snatched from your crashed plane by a man covered in red paint—but there’s a more pressing concern that’ll take up the vast majority of your time in The Forest, particularly on higher difficulties: survival.
This is, after all, a survival game first and foremost, which means you need to manage hunger, thirst, warmth and shelter (the latter mostly for saving and sleeping), not to mention the looming threat of death at the hands of the hostile inhabitants of the island on which you’re stranded. There’s a deep crafting system at the heart of the game, which covers everything from smaller survival items like spears and bows to larger ones like houses or even the option to patiently build an entire village.
For fans of the latter, there’s a way to play The Forest without the many threats that dwell above and below this mysterious island. For everyone else, there’s a compelling survival experience that rewards the curious player seeking narrative answers, both in the main storyline and the island’s rich backstory. When I first completed the main story, I had to trawl through forums to make sense of some of the bigger beats, such was the subtle storytelling of indie dev Endnight Games.
Now that the game has released, Endnight has made some of those storytelling beats a little more obvious. It’s not the kind of tale that bombards you with cutscenes (they are incredibly scarce and all in-engine) and you do need to pay attention to clues and items you discover to start piecing things together. But it is a lot clearer. And while Endnight has also added an interesting alternative ending to The Forest, I won’t talk about any more story details for fear of spoilers.
Suffice it to say, the dozens of hours it’ll likely take you to explore the island, plumb the depths of the intricate cave system (unlocking the necessary kit to facilitate further plumbing), and discover the patient conclusion through that door (you’ll know it when you encounter it), it’ll all be worthwhile. I’ve done that full trek twice now, both times in co-op with between three to five players, and I loved it both times.
There’s nothing quite like hearing the inadvertent shrieks of seasoned gamers, even if those shrieks are sometimes coming out of your own mouth. The Forest doesn’t have a lot in the way of enemy variety, and despite the expansive inventory, the core mechanics are quite simple with a gameplay loop that’s straightforward but compelling.
Really, the main issues I have are the lack of hotkeys for items (you can manually bind a handful, but there’s so much useful stuff), some unfortunately persistent bugs (particularly with enemy AI, collision detection and some crashes), plus the massive frame drops that happen when entering/exiting caves (and sometimes at inopportune times).
It’s not enough to break the game, but it is enough to drag you out of the fantastic immersion that permeates throughout the rest of the game. If you scare easily, play The Forest with friends. If being scared is your jam, the terror is multiplied when you play alone, particularly when you’re first hunted by an organised group of freaky island inhabitants. Regardless, I’ve put 50 hours into The Forest across Early Access and release states, and I still don’t feel like I’m done with it. It’s that good.