This Oculus Rift-powered title looks like a singularly terrifying experience.
By John Robertson on February 6, 2014 at 11:56 am
You begin The Forest with a single piece of information: you, and only you, have survived the plane crash. That’s it.
What you don’t know is how to survive in this world of dense trees, rugged hills and unpredictable weather systems, what type and level of danger lurks beyond the horizon and how you can begin to get out of this seemingly hopeless situation.
“Simulation is one of the key words for the game: a simulated horror environment,” explains creative director Ben Falcone of developer Endnight Games, a studio with just four full-time staff.
“We have tides that rise and fall and that might block off certain areas of the world at different times of day. The world is always changing and you can change it, too. Every tree and plant can be chopped down or burned down accidentally.
“One frustration I’ve had with games recently is just how samey everything is and we really want to create an original, fresh horror experience that people haven’t played before. We’re aiming for something with the immersive qualities of System Shock 2, but with the kind of horror you get from 70s horror films.”
Above and beyond simply surviving, the goal of The Forest is yet to be revealed, although Falcone promises that there is an “ending”. It will be up to players themselves to work out what that ending is and how to uncover it — the game itself will never give overt guidelines about what you should be doing or when.
Hints and clues are scattered across the world and designed to pique your interest — a deserted yacht full of family photos but no trace of survivors, for example — but the mining for knowledge, and how you use it, is entirely down to you.
The same minimal-knowledge approach applies to crafting and building. Shelters can be built that will keep you warm during the dark hours of The Forest‘s day/night cycle, although crafting of the items required to erect structures is a case of trial and error on your part — a trial made more difficult given a general scarcity of resources.
“There is a constant push to find food and stay alive due to limited resources, you can’t just expect everything to come to you,” says Falcone.
“There are some resources in the crashed plane to start you off, but that drive to find food and craft items keeps you engaged, keeps you exploring and forces you to think about the situation and how to approach it.”
Compounding your difficulties is a health system that sees you expend stamina by simply walking around the world and performing physical activities. Eating regularly is the key to preventing your stamina level dropping below the point where you start to slow down and become unable to perform certain actions to a satisfactory standard.
Actions such as fighting…
You’re not alone in The Forest. Occupying a multitude of caves spread throughout the landscape are cannibalistic, humanoid mutants living out their lives in the space you’ve just exploded into. As nocturnal creatures, you’re generally safe from their attentions during the day as long as you don’t decide to go cave diving at dawn in a bid to satisfy your sense of adventure.
Far from blood-thirsty simpletons, the mutants do not awake from their daylight rest and flip a switch that sees them sees them mindlessly attack you. In fact, Falcone explains that they will only tend to take notice of you if your paths cross over a dispute for land or resources. However, they are cannibals and they will hunt you in food is running low.
Killing just one can have long-lasting consequences, though, as each and every mutant is designed with an emotionally-aware AI system that causes them to mourn for lost ones, protect family members at the risk of their own lives and understand the concept of revenge.
Given the promise of limited resources and the need to move frequently in order to allow food-providing plants and animals to repopulate areas you’ve previously called home, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll never come into contact with the mutant population. In fact, some of the game’s rarest and most valuable items are found in their caves, scavenged and horded by the mutants.
Oculus Rift support has been designed and prioritised from the very start, something Endnight believes changes the experience, as Falcone is keen to discuss:
“It’s a completely different experience playing with Oculus and seeing those mutants and plants as life size things. The sense of scale really hits you in a big way and makes you think that they’re in the room with you.
“At present, Oculus Rift is low-res and has some issues but it still works really well. I’ve been obsessed with 3D and head-mounted displays for a while so was really excited when Rift was announced. I think for horror games it makes so much sense.”
An early-access release of The Forest is due in the “next couple of months”, although the available content has yet to be confirmed. Given the small size of the development team (never reaching more than 10 people, including contractors) it’s likely that the early-access will be used as the primary means of bug-testing and will therefore see numerous little issues and quirks.
Whatever the case, though, The Forest is one of this year’s most exciting games and everything points to potential ‘indie darling 2014′ status. The sheer scale and ambition of the project alone makes it an interesting and thought-provoking proposition.