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Friday, April 7, 2023

‘Sons of the Forest’ Early Access Review: An Evolved Yet Imperfect Trip Back into ‘The Forest’

Endnight GamesThe Forest has become something of a cult-classic since its 2014 inception. Despite being produced by a small, previously unheard of indie games studio, its immersive gameplay and eerie remote island atmosphere made it a hit to invest hours into both by yourself, and with friends. For those unfamiliar, think Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing: New Horizons…except with cannibals. And demons. And spooky, dark caves to unearth your latent claustrophobia. Needless to say, when its nearly decade-later sequel was announced, it was highly anticipated (even becoming the most wishlisted game on Steam). As one of those fans, I was highly satisfied with the end result, but Sons of the Forest left me feeling that there’s a bit more to be desired (and, it’s worth noting, it’s technically in Early Access right now, so much of it is still subject to change with development).

The story of Sons of the Forest is roughly the same as its predecessor: you find yourself in an in-media-res helicopter crash landing on a remote island with nothing but a couple tools and protein bars on hand. A fun addition this time around is a timid companion named Kelvin who also survived the crash landing but has been rendered deaf from the explosion. Kelvin acts as a pseudo “second player” for those playing by themselves–you can ask him to perform a myriad of tasks from gathering sticks, to building entire structures. He’s a welcome addition to some of the more tedious tasks of the game, but his bugginess also makes him a bit of a menace. Be careful asking him to do certain things like “gather logs,” because he’ll go over and chop down the tree house you spent an hour building to gather supplies without hesitation.

As you gather your bearings (and berries to snack on), you’ll quickly notice that you have hunger, thirst, and sleep gauges that need to be kept full. In The Forest, it was a bit of a challenge to make sure you didn’t die of starvation or dehydration. Sons of the Forest has mitigated this struggle a bit–now you can safely drink from just about any water source without worrying about getting sick, and if you really need a meal, you can easily just ask Kelvin to go snatch up some fish from a nearby lake. I surprisingly had mixed feelings about this change; to me, part of the fun of The Forest was the struggle to gather up as much food as possible and race back to camp before nightfall; or praying that a storm would roll in to give you fresh drinking water.

In lieu of spending time hunting for food and drink, you have much more time to explore the island. But this is where my main critique of Sons of the Forest comes into play–it suffers from the curse that often plagues open-world games where there’s a huge sandbox to explore, but not much to do or find within it. While there are a bunch of caves to explore scattered throughout the island, they’re all largely the same and typically not very rewarding to search. You’ll find yourself getting beaten to a pulp by monsters in one just to discover that you sacrificed all of the time and effort to get something like a stun gun. Without the ability to fast-travel, you’ll find that a good chunk of the gameplay is just traipsing through the woods in the dark in the hopes of finding something new (which, oftentimes, you don’t).

Despite this, the core of The Forest that makes the gameplay immersive is still there when you need it. While a bit clunky at times, structures are even more customizable this time around, so you can feel free to build the treehouse fort of your dreams. The graphical uphaul provides eye candy for when you toiling away collecting logs and wood, and the seasons even cycle for a completely different vibe from one day to the next. You’ll be surprised to go to sleep one night around lush greenery, and wake up to a blanket of snow covering the whole island.

Combat is more complex with the wider array of weapons at your disposal, and more of a variety of enemies that look like they came backpacking straight out of Silent Hill. You’ll face off against club-wielding small fry cannibals to giant, worm-like creatures that can take you out in just a couple hits. The enemies are quite difficult–its in your best interest to make use of the wide array of weapons that the game hands you, from stun guns, revolvers, and shotguns to knives, axes and clubs. Personally, I found the combat to be more rewarding in multiplayer mode. It’s a lot easier to coordinate taking on hoards of enemies that way instead of being ganged up on all at once, especially in caves.

As you make your way around the island, you’ll start to uncover the secrets and origins of the strange creatures that inhabit it via notes and artifacts that have been strewn about caves and bunkers. Without getting into spoilers, Sons of the Forest pivots deeply into science fiction while incorporating some paranormal elements as well. While The Forest dipped its toes in sci-fi, Sons of the Forest does a cannonball into it in a way that’s sure to be polarizing (personally, I enjoyed it). Despite this, the story does end a bit abruptly and without much resolution. While it’s fun to leave things to the imagination (and also a cliffhanger for DLC and future entries), I wouldn’t say you should play Sons of the Forest to be blown away by its plot.

Instead, you should pick up Sons of the Forest if you want a solid and somewhat slow-paced survival-horror experience. It’s very easy to invest hours into mindless resource-gathering and cave-exploring; I found that I had much more fun when I focused on building my own fort and hoarding supplies than I did diving into caves in rapid-succession. While I’m satisfied with the improvements from its predecessor, I can’t quite shake the feeling that something is missing each time I play it. Perhaps this’ll change with future updates–as previously mentioned, it’s still in Early Access, so it’s still technically in development. But in the meantime, it might be worth holding off until future developments make it feel like a fuller, and more complete title.

Sons of the Forest is currently available in Early Access on Steam for $29.99

The post ‘Sons of the Forest’ Early Access Review: An Evolved Yet Imperfect Trip Back into ‘The Forest’ appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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