The Forest review (Early Access)

Alpha reviews offer our preliminary verdicts on in-development games. We may follow up this unscored alpha review with a final, scored review in the future.

I've been playing The Forest today, and whenever anyone's come over to my desk to watch I've been savaging an animal. Spearing fish with a stick, murderising turtles with a rock, and at one point I'd battered so many seagulls with an axe that the resulting pile of feathery bodies slowed the game down to a crawl. As I type this, it's the second best-selling game on Steam. It would be the first, but a 75% sale on Injustice is getting in the way. Am I enjoying it? Yeah, but I think it's important I tell you from the off that it's incredibly janky and limited, even for an Early Access title. At this point in time it feels more like a proof of concept than a game, but what I've seen so far shows a lot of promise indeed.

It starts with a plane crash. Pinned to your economy class seat with a small boy clutching your arm, you see the jet split as it careens into the titular Forest—a rugged stretch of land that may or may not be an island, inhabited by crazed, bloodthirsty natives. The boy survives the impact, but as you lie on the floor semi-conscious, you see him being taken away from the wreck by one of the locals. Then you wake up and your journey begins. The crash site is randomised, so every time you start a new game you'll appear on a different part of the map. The crash sequence is nicely done, but it's unskippable, so get used to watching it over and over again as you repeatedly die while getting the hang of things.

The cannibals will rush towards the flaming fuselage, so it's best to grab as much as you can—tiny bottles of airline booze, energy bars, cans of soda, a fire axe—and find somewhere more remote to establish as your base of operations. Cases from the flight are littered all over the coast, so I find myself heading there first, cracking them open with the axe and looting the contents. Then, once I'm stocked up on food, drink, and other useful items–and I haven't already been turned into a human kebab by the natives—I head into the forest itself to set up my first camp, which is where the construction system comes into play.

Press B and a survival guide pops up, allowing you to place the 'frame' of a structure—from simple shelters to log cabins, and other things like traps and campfires. Then, once you've set the position of your creation, you have to go hunting for materials. You'll only need a few sticks, rocks, and leaves to create a firepit, but for shelters you need to get busy with that axe. Chop away at a tree and it'll eventually topple over, turning into logs that you can haul over your shoulder and take back to camp. It doesn't take long to get established, but a wooden lean-to and a basic fire won't keep you alive for long.

But it's those murderous tribes that will cause you the most grief. They're terrifyingly aggressive, and you probably won't survive an encounter with more than one or two of them. I managed to beat one to death with an axe, then I chopped his body up and used the various legs and arms—as well as those from another body I found on the beach—to create what the game calls an effigy. Set these macabre totems up around your camp and enemies will steer clear. It works the other way, though: if you see one of their effigies you're probably near one of their settlements, in which case it's best to take another route. The enemies are genuinely intimidating, and I love how sometimes they won't attack you straight away, instead circling around you, watching, studying, trying to figure you out.

If they get you, you won't always die. Sometimes you'll wake up in an underground cave network, with only the flickering glow of a lighter to guide you to safety. Most times I've ended up in here I've run into a group of loin-clothed natives and been unceremoniously killed, but once I managed to escape and the sunlight gave me a real feeling of relief. Of course, moments later I stumbled into a group of them patrolling a clearing and died. The Forest is, at least for now, a fairly gruelling experience. The developers told me when I interviewed them a few months ago that a 'peaceful' mode is planned, which strips away the enemies. I love the idea of this, and it could be the Survivorman game I've always dreamed of. But I wonder if the survival elements will be rich enough to still be entertaining without any danger.

That's about all there is to The Forest right now. I don't think I can recommend it yet—especially at £11 / $15—but it has the bones of a potentially great survival game. It's visually striking in places, but not so much in others, with glitchy animations, jaggy shadows, and dodgy collision detection. Eventually you'll tire of playing cat and mouse with the natives and yearn for something a bit more substantial to do, but I expect more elements will be added as the game is updated. For an alpha it's impressively packed with features, but until it's more polished, and there's more to do, you might want to hold back.

Verdict: Wait and see

A shaky start, but The Forest has a lot of potential, and is the only game I've ever played where a severed leg is both a weapon and a crafting material.

Alpha reviews offer our preliminary verdicts on in-development games. We may follow up this unscored alpha review with a final, scored review in the future.

Andy Kelly

If it’s set in space, Andy will probably write about it. He loves sci-fi, adventure games, taking screenshots, Twin Peaks, weird sims, Alien: Isolation, and anything with a good story.