Green Hell Preview

Now that we're comfortably many generations down the road from Minecraft, the survival/crafting game has evolved into quite a few sub-genres. There are zombie survival games and fantasy survival games a la Conan Exiles. There are psychological thriller survival games like The Forest, which also fits into the "realistic" category. This sub-genre is characterized by detailed visuals and attention to the kinds of stats, challenges and activities that an actual survivor might encounter in the wilderness.

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Green Hell, now in early access, does what many other survival/crafting games do: borrows heavily the mechanics from other games and then adds an original wrinkle or two. While Green Hell's crafting system is generally familiar, its Amazonian jungle setting and lush graphics help it stand out, and the promise of an extended and interesting story - previewed a bit in the current, sandbox mode version of the game - further pushes it out from the pack. 

The story premise does a good job of giving context to the gameplay. The player assumes the role of Jake, an author/naturalist who, together with his anthropologist/linguist girlfriend Mia, are in the Amazon to communicate with some native tribes. The pair communicate via walkie-talkie and since Mia forgot to pack the matches, Jake needs to gather materials to start a fire. And so the crafting begins. I don't know if there's a bell curve of my interest in these kinds of games but if there is, I'm starting on the downward slope. The act of finding or making materials to make other materials and tools to make even more materials and tools ad infinitum has definitely become a bit too familiar. While researching blueprints and crafting items is relatively streamlined, the workflow remains cumbersome and fussy and involves too many steps and gameplay inconsistencies and frustrations. On one hand, the game would like us to believe we're in a realistic, open world jungle. The immersion-breaking reality is that we're still playing a videogame where only certain objects can be manipulated and too much time is spent hunting them down, when seemingly other, similar objects are obviously right there.

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While the crafting and foraging in Green Hell are pretty standard stuff, the setting, the graphics and attention to visual realism are exceptional. The jungle is vibrant with often deadly wildlife and all manner of insects, reptiles, birds and mammals walking on four legs and two, and the game's crafting recipes make use of the flora and fauna in generally believable ways. As usual, there are health, hunger, thirst and other body and mind-related statistics that need to be attended to by eating the right kinds of food or being able to bandage wounds in specific locations. The psychology of survival is no doubt a complex one and the way deteriorating mental health, mood or other states impact success is just starting to factor into games like Green Hell. The environment is strong enough that a well-told story populated by interesting characters and just enough crafting to add tension would be ideal.

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Arguments have been made for more realism in all sorts of game genres from shooters to survival games but often, added realism doesn't necessary translate to more fun or an engaging challenge, just frustration. One shot kills or game-ending snake bites might be true to life but don't make for enjoyable gameplay. Not unlike SCUM - a similarly realistic survival game - Green Hell hasn't quite yet figured out the optimal balance between realism and tedium, but t looks great and the promised story mode might be the element that provides enough context and emotional energy to make the crafting more rewarding than in other survival games.