It starts with what sounds like a series of birdcalls. Only there are no birds awake at this hour. Then I hear a rustling noise, and spot one of them leaping between the trees. Another four approach along the ground. I swipe a stone off the ground and watch them closely, ready to hurl it at one if they come any closer.
Luckily, my standing torches give them pause, especially when a tribesman stumbles into one and promptly burns to death. After a tense standoff, the rest recede into the shadows, and I’m safe for another few hours.
The tribesmen come twice more that night, and still harass me deep into the day. I constantly see them patrolling in the distance, and every so often they approach the camp, sometimes attacking, sometimes not.
During this time I’ve come to realise two things about the tribesmen and the game itself. The first is how remarkably well designed the AI is. The tribesmen act in an eerily human fashion. The way they don’t simply attack you outright, but approach cautiously, first trying to intimidate you by running at you and then veering away, and mixing their attacks with these almost trial runs. The way they move through the forest, calling to one another and using the trees as a vantage point. The way they attack tactically, engaging you from different angles, using teamwork to get around and behind you. I haven’t seen human enemies portrayed this uncannily since Condemned: Criminal Origins.
The other thing is how bloody annoying they are. The frequency of their harassment is making it impossible to enjoy the game fully and explore its survival systems in greater detail. There’s a crafting mechanic that I’ve barely touched, and I haven’t investigated the use of traps or any other objects I can build to aid myself in survival. I really like both the idea and the presentation of the tribesmen, but like much else in the game they’re too commonly encountered, and need to be dialled back a little.
Case in point; I’m only four days into my survival attempt, and their attacks are now so intense I can no longer hold them off. I’m finally overwhelmed, beaten down in the daytime by a dozen grey fists. The Forest goes dark.
To my considerable surprise, I’m not dead. I drift back into consciousness and discover I’m in a cave littered with human detritus. Much of it is from the plane crash, luggage cases, medicine bottles, food, drink. I also find a woodsman’s hatchet in the back of the cave. I still posses most of the equipment I collected over the preceding days, which seems a little odd. But it means I can use my lighter to illuminate the dank cavern.
I’m fairly certain I know what has happened, and my assumption is soon proved true. The severity of the situation is some way beyond what I had imagined, however. I’ll spare you specific details, for several reasons including spoilers. But if it wasn’t already clear, the Forest doesn’t exactly share the cheerful, upbeat survivalist tones of Minecraft. The game has a heart of darkness, and I am most certainly in it.
What I will say is that the cave is enormous. An icon on the screen indicates the location of my last shelter. But after ten minutes steadily moving forward there’s no sign of an exit. Unfortunately, there are plenty of tribesmen. Fortunately, they're fairly easy to evade, which is either due to being preoccupied or indicative of a rare dip in AI quality.
I'm not far from the exit when everything goes wrong. Two tribesmen jump me, seemingly coming out of the walls. I give it everything I’ve got, but I am in no state to defend myself against them. This time, when the screen goes dark, it clearly announces that this time I am one-hundred-percent dead.
I might have failed in my attempt to survive The Forest, but it is one of the most enjoyable Early Access games I’ve played yet. Despite only being a very early build, all the important components for having a complete gaming experience are there. It both looks and feels great, and the AI of the native forest dwellers is mightily impressive. The only real issue I have is with balancing. Currently it’s too easy to catch animals, and too difficult to evade the attentions of the tribespeople. But with so much still to be done on the project, the Forest looks to be a very enticing prospect indeed.