The Forest: Lizards and Legs
- Updated: 30th Dec, 2014
It’s about survival after your plane crashes on an island inhabited by cannibals. I generally spend my first few minutes smashing open suitcases with an axe to salvage chocolate bars, cans of soft drink and bits of cloth. The occasional tennis ball, because of course you keep tennis balls in your carry-on bag, right?
From there, you’re left alone. In its initial early access stages back in May, you could pretty much just run around exploring. Chop down some trees. Await your inevitable death at the hands of the savages. Developers Endnight Games have since added a bunch of crafting options that will help keep you safe, up to a point.
Campfires will stave off the cold and roast small animals, though there’s no way to store cooked food. Eat it fresh off the fire or let it burn away. Drying racks will store loads of lizard and rabbit corpses for you eat as and when required. The one time I successfully managed to clock a deer on the head with my axe, the meat simply vanished from the drying rack, so the forest economy is still pretty limited. I’ve been told that the smell of drying meat will draw the cannibals. This seems true but from my experience they would much rather risk their lives for fresh man-meat than eat my filthy dried lizards.
You construct things through picking blueprints out of your survival handbook and plopping them down on the ground. Over in the chapter on shelter you can find small hunting shelters that will only take minutes to build, large log cabins that need you to cut down 90 logs or more and even tree houses. While gathering materials, the HUD helpfully tells you when you’re carrying 4 of the 7 sticks required to complete your current constructions.
Awkwardly, there’s a bug that sometimes prevents buildings from being completed if you die and respawn or even simply reload while they’re under construction. Instead, you’re left with a ghostly shell of a hunting cabin haunting your camp. The HUD prompt remains, begging you to cut down more and more trees just to fill the beast. It never works.
Occasionally, I’ll log in and find a dead body lying on the beach. You can cut dead bodies up to make effigies that will allegedly mark out your piece of land so cannibals won’t enter. In practice, they either don’t work yet, or I need a lot more effigies. Instead, I just have a bunch of poles with heads and limbs burnings around my house. There are three effigy blueprints that require lots of arms. After a few skirmishes and builds, this will leave you with a sad pile of dismembered legs, just lying about on the ground.
That’s not the weirdest part though. It gets really weird when you’re under attack. Cannibal homes are simply large triangular huts to keep the rain away, so they’re not big on doors. Any kind of cabin will keep them at bay, at least until someone glitches through the wall or you leave the unsecured door open wide enough for them to brave the demon’s portal.
I’m fairly sure there are two factions of cannibal. The creepy ones are the underground dwellers who go nude, smear themselves in shiny mud and fight with their fists. The scarier ones are the tool users who build the triangular huts. They wield weapons and torches, mark their territory with fearsome skull effigies and oddly-posed corpses. If you hide for long enough, they’ll start attacking each other, leaving you with a nice set of limbs to add to your own base. I’ve seen some very cool NPC moments: when I managed to knock a cannibal unconscious, her warrior companion broke off the fight to drag her injured body out of my range before resuming the attack. Everyone’s menace is sadly curtailed though, by a single AI bug.
For some reason, cannibals have a tendency to run around things. I’m holed up in my log cabin on the beach. At night, both factions are drawn to my delicious meaty drying rack. I’m desperately swinging at them with my axe whenever they approach the open window. Every so often, I stop to upgrade it by glueing human teeth to the blade with tree sap. It’s a thing. Don’t ask me why.
I glance out the opposite window to check that nobody is approaching me from behind. In the distance I see a cannibal running around a tree stump, brandishing a flaming club. I watch. He keeps running. I wait. He’s still running. Around and around and around that damn tree stump all night without rest. I get closer to the window and look down the beach. Seven more cannibals are farther down the beach, all running in a perfectly synchronised circle around nothing at all. What the hell?
It’s half a game, and looks like half of a very good one. You can get definitely a dozen or so hours of entertainment out of its current state. Between logging, exploring, building tree hut villages and whacking the occasional native with an axe until their clothes fall off, there’s promise there and it gets updated on a regular basis. There’s even a non-hostile mode (“vegan mode”) that turns off the cannibals for a session, giving you time to build up your defenses.
According to the development roadmap on Steam, Endnight Games have plans to add plenty more: additional animals for the economy, better AI, more trapping and hunting options and support for various controller types. I’ll fire it up every few months and report back on their progress.
The Forest is available as an early access game for Windows on Steam.