This isn’t supposed to be a rant on the demise of game quality however, that is for another article. The horror genre has had some proper indie gems over the years which prove that studios who are out to make a good game and not spurred on by publisher targets and incentives can and do exist. Personal favourites include the slightly older Cryostasis, and the incredible Amnesia series. Amnesia – A Place for Pigs recently had me quaking in my boots as well as desperate to see the gore that obviously lay ahead as I hid in the dark from mutant Frankenstein pigs in a sprawling underground Victorian Slaughterhouse. Yes, its as sick and beautiful as it sounds.
The one thing all of these games have in common however is their linear storytelling fashion, leading you through a creepy or eerily built environment encouraging you to look closely for clues which will both unlock more of the story and move you forward in the game. A game mechanic which, implemented well with a involving storyline and depth of content, is tried and tested but getting a bit long in the tooth for hardcore gamers looking for something a bit more involving or challenging.
Cue the incredible success of indie ‘virtual lego creator’ Minecraft. After the open world aspect of Mojangs smash hit was an unprecedented success in the indie world, small game developers everywhere have started to crowbar the sandbox aspect into every genre they can think of. Some places this works well and others it doesn’t. Horror games lend themselves particularly well to this format though, with games such as Day-Z and Rust taking the helm of the newly repopular ‘Survival Horror’. These games are effectively open ended with no particular goal other than to explore and survive, scavenging everywhere you can to try to extend your survival period by a few meagre minutes (DayZ proudly displays the average lifespan of 1 hour on its homepage). This new offshoot of the classic ‘scary noises in corridors’ format is a huge leap forward, as it encourages use of imagination to really involve yourself in the environment presented. Instead of being led through those dark and eery corridors to get to the next checkpoint (because an arrow or marker tells you its there), you are going down them because you decided you are curious to know whats at the end. This is a fundemantal shift in the level of emmersion the player experiences, and one welcomed by gamers (shown by the sheer number of new indie titles popping up in this genre).
It parallels the feeling we used to get when searching every nook and cranny of Duke Nukem to maybe find a hidden door with a jet pack inside, or even ruffling every bush in the original pokemon series to find a secret dragon that might or might not exist. It appeals to our adventurous and explorative sides, it doesn’t insult our intelligence, and it is a welcome return to popular gaming titles.
So this is where we end up, the inspiration for this article and the game I have been most excited about for years. Here we have new indie title ‘The Forest’.
Developers ‘Endnight Games’ (Facebook Page) first teased us with this concept almost a year ago, showing us their initial screeshots and hitting Steam Greenlight by storm. Since then they have released 3 trailers progressively revealing the games environment and features, and have a smattering of interviews and social media posts showing the dedication and passion of the team towards the game. This has historically been a winning formula for software developers, getting the audience on their side before the release of the product and distancing themselves from the monopolising giant publishers gamers have come to loath.
The game world itself and characters look incredible. The game team in their own website FAQ say:
‘Why does it look so good for an indie game?
With our background in VFX and the use of some very talented artists/coders we have been able to aim as high as we can for the visuals of the game.’
..and its true. The beautiful forest into which you are thrown has a bittersweet appeal which is hard to achieve in 3d style design, looking both beautiful and simultaneously sinister. It sports the tree filtered sun-beams that made us sit up and gawp at Crysis back in 2007, incredible atmospheric particle physics for swarms of insects and animals, and character models which look and move in a way which seem to make your brain reactively scared of them, like spiders (in a manner Dead Space managed to achieve so well). For an indie title they have set the bar ridiculously high.
The game mechanics look somewhere between Minecraft and Dungeon Keeper, setting strategic traps by mining for resources and choosing defensive spots ready for the nighttime onslaught of terrible beasties which threaten your peaceful existence in paradise. Scavenging and exploration are key to this, as the landscape and choice of locations offer different defensive advantages.
The developers have stated in recent interviews that there is in fact a purpose or goal in this game, however they have left it completely undocumented and will give no clues as to what the player is supposed to achieve. This for me is the killer feature, and coupled with an open world and no time limit makes for an extremely attractive prospect of using your own intelligence to create an individual game experience. Will you sit back for Days fighting waves of zombies and building up your defences? Use a strategy of moving by day and bunking down before nightfall? How will you manage both exploration and survival? When will you venture into those serisouly scary looking caves? All these questions are answered by the player, subconsciously as they are allowed to freely do what comes naturally to them.
The one thing which could let down this incredibly enticing game is content. Sandbox games are often limited by the size of the world they create, and they amount of things to do in it. I am personally a sucker for scenery, and I will happily explore this beautiful game for hours for the graphical porn on offer, but for the survival of the passionate developers and progression of this beloved genre I really hope this has enough environment density and playable challenge to keep even the most short attention-spanned gamer hooked. Judging by the amount of care and attention payed to the other aspects of this game I am extremely hopeful. I will definitely be buying the pre-release version on May 22nd, and if you like horror games you should too.