The Forest Abandoned Its Coolest Ideas

In the Forest, you are a dude with a survivalist TV show who gets in a real plane wreck on an island off the coast of Canada that’s overrun by cannibal mutants because of some Lovecraftian science project gone wrong. The island causes lots of plane wrecks and yet no one’s put up some kind of advisory to stop flying over it because of all the electrical interference caused by the Lovecraftian science going on. It does have an explanation why you in particular are special, though: Your survival skills allow you to do survival craft-y basebuilding stuff that other survivors could not, which gives you a fighting chance where everyone else has basically got to join the cannibal mutants and succumb to cannibal mutation or else die, either at the hands of the cannibals or the elements. The game makes use of this premise in at least one nifty way, where the first time or two you black out, you awaken in a cannibal camp in their creepy victim storage cave and have a chance to escape.

If you read my April Humble Choice post, you know this game went into Regrets. I took a stab at playing it back before I was trying to get through my backlog and ultimately gave up before finishing it. That was a common enough thing back then (I started doing the backlog for a reason), and I put it on the backlog and even kept it there through a few revisions. But every time I look at it and consider playing it as my next main game after finishing Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel, I hesitate. I hesitate for two reasons.

First, the game is hard enough that you have to reload saves multiple times to build up enough skill to win. I’m already about half-ish way through this process – in my previous playthrough I’d gotten far enough to confront, but not reliably defeat, the elite mutant bad guys who have like seven legs and stuff, and the only thing harder than those is the end bosses. So it’s not like the skill cliff is insurmountable, but I have to keep reloading saves in a way that isn’t very immersive, which runs deeply counter to what I want from a game that simulates dragging chopped down logs back to your camp in a sledge to build a wall.

Second, while the game initially wanted to have finite enemies, they never actually implemented this, and enemies respawn indefinitely. Caveat: Enemies do eventually run out, but the respawns are reset if you load a saved game, which basically eradicates this as a usable feature for everyone who isn’t marathoning a multiplayer instance of the game in shifts over the course of an entire weekend. That sounds like fun, but come on, the logistics are never going to be practical, so if that’s what the devs meant by “finite enemies” then they’re basically lying. My assumption isn’t that they were lying, though, but that they were planning on having finite enemies in a practical sense but never got around to implementing the feature properly, and the version we got is a vestigial remnant of an abortive attempt to do so.

Part of the game’s mechanics is that if mutant patrols detect you (including if you kill them), they start to figure out where you are and will amass an army to wipe out your base. Combined with a finite number of mutants, you have an asymmetric game where you are playing as one particularly dangerous fellow whose limbs are in the optimal configuration and knows how to build booby traps, and the mutants have tremendous but finite numbers and can overwhelm you in a straight fight, so you have to be all sneaky and such, picking them off one by one. But they never actually implemented finite mutants, so you still have to abandon bases as you get chased around the map, but you can never win the war in the other direction, you just have to deal with mutant spawns for the whole game, and if they find your base in the corner of the map where your current objective is, you have to do the tedious work of luring them to some other part of the map before you can get back to your main objective. Weirdly enough, the vast majority of enemies in caves stay dead, even though the Lovecraftian science causing the mutations is located down there, so if there was anywhere it made sense to be continuously restocking on mutants, it would be the caves, not the surface.

Third, and this is a much more minor complaint, but the game has a big emphasis on exploring cave networks, and originally all the underground cave networks were supposed to be linked together, making it possible to cross the map underground. This got dropped, and in the actual game there’s about a dozen cave entrances and about eight fully separate cave networks, with only a handful having multiple entrances. This isn’t really a huge deal, but it would’ve been neat.

Fourth, and similarly to third this is a more minor issue but it is just one more cool thing that never happened, there was originally planned to be a mechanic where decreasing sanity would unlock the ability to make creepy heads-on-pikes style trophies that would deter small mutant patrols from the area, but they never got the unlock prerequisites working so now you can make the heads-on-pikes the second you get out of the plane wreckage. It does at least interact with the whole “mutants scout for your base” thing, although without the ability to thin mutant numbers, I find that mechanic more annoying than cool.

Remove all that, and what do you have? Yet another survival craft-y game that only stands out because of some particularly creepy enemies. Do I want to sink 20 or even 10 hours into that? Not really. I really want to play a guerilla campaign against the mutants, but that feature never made it, and I really shouldn’t be spending time playing a game that at one point planned to be something I would’ve enjoyed.

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