Sons Of The Forest review: beautiful survival horror with a few missteps

By admin Mar1,2024

There are moments where Sons Of The Forest matches the sublime paranoia of Subnautica. There’s that same lurching, exquisite tension as you delve deeper and deeper into darkness where you are not welcome, supplies dwindling, footfall echoing, monstrosities skittering about in the black. On my most intense plunge into one cave, I groaned aloud as the path I was praying must be the exit twisted back on itself, sending me first down a rope, and then into a long slide down, down into the earth, back into the spindly clutches of pale, bifurcated mutants. When I finally saw the sun again, I could have cried.

It’s still a bit wonky, but the full 1.0 release makes the Forest a fuller, livelier and more inviting (or else alluringly off-putting) prospect for a wander – even, as in my case, a wholly solo one. Consider this your cue to peel open some skin pouches.

The four-armed woman Virginia accompanies the player through a forest in Sons Of The Forest
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Endnight Games

Let’s start by getting any new foresters up to speed. We open with you flying over an island in a military-ish helicopter, ostensibly dispatched to find a family of missing richo-s. The chopper gets shot down, a mysterious figure comes along and knocks you out, and voila, you’re off, time to make a new life in the woods. It’s the same cutscene as it was in last year’s early access release, except that mysterious figure now has a voice line – and much the same applies to the smattering of other cutscenes you’ll trigger as you explore your way to the finale. The ending itself is now more substantial, but I can’t help but feel the devs have touted a cinematic expansion that isn’t really present.

It doesn’t matter too much. The better story is written in the deserted campsites, bloodied golf carts and secret bunkers of the island, sometimes hiding found footage clips of cultists and goons that provide morsels of context for their grisly remains. As Ollie found in his early access review, the Forest excels at being a forest; all glistening pools and windy treetops, winding trails and scampering wildlife. There are enough encampments and encounters to escape the feeling of emptiness that plagued the initial stumble into early access, plus, with the full release, an implausible number of raccoons which are sweet enough that it pains me to say I think the raccoon dial could do with turning down for realism purposes.

Looking for ways to survive your first few days in Sons of the Forest? Watch the video above for 15 essential tips.Watch on YouTube

It’s possible to behead the raccoons and put their heads on sticks to scare away cannibals. I didn’t do that, obviously, deciding to humanely stick with sticking the cannibals themselves on my warning markers. Again, as Ollie highlighted, those human enemies are a delight, their behaviour imbued with more life and character than I’ve seen in basically any other game. They don’t just attack: they taunt. They’ll hop back and forth, react to a brandished weapon or a turned back, run away when they’re panicked or encircle you when they smell a kill. Interacting with them is a pleasure – but fighting them, sadly, is still a chore.

Raccoons t-pose in an icy lake in Sons Of The Forest
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Endnight Games

Swinging melee weapons around only starts to feel more satisfying once you find chunkier axes and tools that can stagger or amputate with a single strike, but the chopping never stops feeling lacklustre. There just isn’t enough depth to your moveset (light attack, strong attack, block) to keep brawls interesting, or enough heft behind the animations to leave me satisfied with what’s here. The ranged combat also lacks impact, tempering the drama of using up a precious shotgun shell with a muted bang and a barely flinching mutant. You don’t get the same rich behaviour with the more monstrous abominations, either, though they’re often unsettlingly inventive enough to largely make up for it. A particular shout out to Legsy, one of two new mutant types added with 1.0, who likes to lurch around on appendages unknown while sporting upside down legs sometimes disguised as stalagmites. He can jog right on.

Let’s take our hand out of the mixed combat bag and dip into the also mixed crafting/survival bag, starting with Kelvin: your mute, brain-damaged companion who survives that initial helicopter crash. Kelvin is a fine innovation, and I’ll miss him in every other survival game I play going forward. You can tell him to finish any structure you’ve started, fill your holders, repair your tools – or all of the above at once, as of last November’s update that lets you tell him to maintain your base. Early on, I’d sometimes tell him to gather sticks and place them on the floor, then feel guilty when I returned from an expedition to find countless dozens of them spilling out across my entire base. I’m glad you can tell him to take a break, though I did so more out of role-playing than because I ever noticed him getting snippety.

The player holds a bird and a lighter in either hand as a zombie approaches in a snowy forest in Sons Of The Forest
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Endnight Games

A naked monster with new eyes or mouth turns to face the player in a tunnel in Sons Of The Forest

A big fleshy mouth with legs monsters lurches out of the darkness in Sons Of The Forest

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Endnight Games

Semi-sadly, for me, he was the only person I got to boss about. There’s a six-limbed mutant named Virginia who followed me about in the opening hours, popping up every now and then to warily approach my campfires before scarpering whenever I tried to interact with her. Once, I even dramatically rescued her from a cannibal, but away she went – and I never saw her again. For me, she was presumably killed off-screen, like a side-character the writers forgot about, while for Ollie and others she became a beloved companion. That’s what happens when you entrust stories to systems, though. You get magic and you get damp squibs, and for me Virginia’s vanishing lends authenticity to the simulation. There are cannibals out there, man. Girl got ate.

I do have beef with the inventory system, which commits to representing all your bits and bobs on a mat that you have to lay out in front of you whenever it’s time to snarf some dried meat or whip together some arrows. Sure, it’s neat to see tools and weapons get physically cobbled together, in immersion-embracing MacGyver fashion – but it also turns finding your gear into a headache. At one point, I had to Google “Sons Of The Forest where are arrows…” and saw “…in your inventory” immediately pop up as a suggestion. Glad it’s not just me.

It’s also a little odd that building a base is something that you’ll largely do for the sake of it, rather than because it’s actually useful. I found enough food and energy drinks while scavenging to make cooking or purifying water pointless, with plenty of materials to set up little tarp tents wherever I was when I needed to sleep. The 1.0 update improves the system tied to comfort levels restoring more energy, but who needs quality sleep when you can slam 12 cans of Redbull? It would have been a canny move to tie some plot progression into building and base defence, though superfluousness does have the upshot that you can pretty much ignore building if it’s not your speed.

The player looks up a river ravine into the sun in Sons Of The Forest

A red naked man monster approaches the player in a forest setting in Sons Of The Forest

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Endnight Games

A player drinks an energy drink while looking at a crafting mat chock full of different items in Sons Of The Forest
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Endnight Games

I’d loop that into a broader and more damning issue that remains unsolved, though, which is the way that all-important sense of The Forest as a real place is sullied by progression blockers that require you to fetch MacGuffin A before you can access doodad B. I was over it from the first time I trekked across half the island to a mysterious GPS locator tag, only to find I needed to first fetch a shovel from God knows where. Unless I missed something, your options are to either comb through every cave you come across and pray you stumble on the right tools in the right order, or to look up a guide that transforms the beguiling horrorscape of the forest into a mercenary series of objective-driven treks. The abundance of golf buggies and newly added trails to drive them along speeds up those journeys, but speeding up can’t resolve a structural issue.

It’s a crying shame, because puncturing that spell is the Forest playing against its greatest strength. It’s a magnetic place, all the more magical for a seasonal shift that blankets the trees in snow and transforms lakes into great sheets of ice that crunches and cracks underfoot, rippling out spacey reverberations into the void beneath. When it wants to, it can scare the socks off you if you’re playing solo, with caves that drip threat and an oh-so-deliberate decision to plunge you into torchless darkness whenever you reload your crossbow.

But familiarity is the fear killer, and there are only so many caves you can crawl through before the monsters become obstacles to sprint past rather than terrors to flee from. If I’d been able to explore more naturally without the threat of excessive backtracking, maybe I’d have shifted to that mindset a little later on – though I still spent many hours quivering through the dark. Creating a Forest that can go toe to toe with Subanutica’s Ocean when it comes to dread is a huge accomplishment, even if the full package still has some leaks.

By admin

Related Post