Like the misbegotten love child of Silent Hill and Minecraft, The Forest is a surprising and altogether fascinating hybrid of survival horror and crafting, set in an open world that is full of potential. Like the semi-human cannibals that stalk the player, The Forest is another example of mutant game DNA that splices some now very familiar genres together into a sum that is better than its parts.
After surviving a plane crash on a remote, cave-filled island, the player character watches his son being stolen away by a mysterious figure and a story arc is born. Unlike the vast majority of survival crafting games, The Forest has a plot and is full of incidental and environmental storytelling, and there is an actual endgame and ending (several of them, in fact). Unlike most other crafting/survival games that feel aimless at times, The Forest rarely allows for too lengthy a period of contemplative noodling. Even if one ignores the mainline story, there are so many human and inhuman threats skulking around the world that building a better fort or defensive weapons or traps keeps the tension and momentum high.
Plot trajectory aside, The Forest accommodates a wide swath of playstyles and creativity in approaching the problems of survival. Like many games in the genre, the issues around a massive inventory and its management have not entirely been solved, although crafting in The Forest is relatively clear and most important, logical. Crafting games by definition have a core loop of resource collection and crafting. The Forest adds tension to the grind by an increasing number of deadly human and semi-human enemies, and placing the player in environments such as subterranean caves where the sense of claustrophobia and danger blanket every darkness-filled moment.
Thanks to stellar environmental audio, the world of The Forest is alive with sonic information that alerts the player to danger - and helps amp up the tension meter even more. The music is spare and rarely gets in the way of a soundscape of natural and eerily unnatural sounds.
While the overall art design of The Forest and its creatively mutated creatures and human denizens is good, there's no hiding that the game is a relatively low budget creation, with few figure models that stand up to really detailed scrutiny. There's also quite a bit of jank, and graphical anomalies are as common as the island's cannibals. Overall, the visual issues don't detract from what's excellent about The Island, but do remind us that the game is the product of a small team with some fiscal restraints.
In a crowded landscape littered with a few too many survival crafting games, The Forest makes a pretty strong case for itself. With an open-ended world balanced by a story that moves forward, The Forest contains both freedom and mounting tension and provides not just the means for the player to survive, but a compelling reason to do so.