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Best Horror Game of 2018: The Forest

VO: Riccardo Tucci WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
2018 wasn't a big year for horror games, but The Forest definitely stands out as a genuinely terrifying and unique experience for all the right reasons.

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Best Horror Game of 2018 – “The Forest”

2018 may not have been the richest year for the horror gaming, as most of our anticipated titles ended up being quite a letdown. While that may be frustrating for fans of the genre, the anticipated release of Endnight Games’ “The Forest” did not disappoint. First announced five years ago, it’s been in early access since 2014 – but finally it saw a full, complete release this year, and the critical acclaim that’s been following it for years was proven to be more than deserved.

It may be initially tricky to tell what sets “The Forest” aside from other exploration games, as most of its mechanics and gameplay are the same thing we’d expect from any attempt at the genre, but it’s the cross into survival horror that had it piquing everybody’s interest. Gathering vital resources to survive and progress may also be the core gameplay of “Minecraft” or “Subnautica,” but successful as those games are, they don’t convey the sense of urgency that “The Forest” does.

In “The Forest”, your need to survive becomes much more than ticking off objectives and watching various meters slowly decline, there’s a pervasive fear behind all of your actions which makes it stand out against its contemporaries. It’s very easy to get an exploration or horror game wrong, and combining the two is something which could go either way; but “The Forest” innovates on the complexities and nuances of both exploration and survival horror, to make one of the most frightening gaming cocktails in recent memory.

“The Forest’s” crowning achievement is its atmosphere. Its setting is a simple and familiar one, a wooded, deserted island, and it’s through this simplicity that the inherent horror of the environment shines. We all recognize a forest for what it is, and all have memories of having explored them; this uncanny relatability to the experience of wandering around an eerie wood makes this game much scarier than one set in a more disconnected location – an asylum or haunted house, for instance. Endnight Games masterfully use the enemy NPCs to push the game’s perpetual terror to maximum; with monstrous, cannibal inhabitants of the island stalking you constantly.

At night, you’re surrounded by ominous, animalistic shrieking, while glowing, strange eyes stare at you from the shadows, making the player constantly paranoid about when and where they will be attacked next. Even before encountering these monsters, the player is forced to witness numerous disturbing set pieces, like heads on spikes and intricately posed corpses.

The majority of the game’s story is also told atmospherically, as evidence and logs discovered in the region’s many gore-filled underground caves eventually form a complete picture of the deeper conspiracy. While “The Forest’s” setting is impeccably designed, without a good story to keep the player invested any horror game is doomed to fall flat on its face.

Luckily, “The Forest” takes its cues from other modern, genre successes, like “Outlast” “Resident Evil” & “The Evil Within”, which tell compelling if horrifying stories fully capable of keeping the player immersed. “The Forest” follows Eric Leblanc, the player character, and his young son Tommy, as the plane they’re travelling on crashes down on the deserted island.

After witnessing Tommy’s kidnapping by a mysterious stranger, Eric must do everything to both survive and rescue his son. He slowly discovers the island is at the centre of a conspiracy and the island’s denizens are bizarre mutants, and at the heart of it all is a device capable of bringing people back from the dead – the catch being that it requires the sacrifice of a living child. This twist means that “The Forest” becomes much darker than many other games, which typically shy away from anything to do with dead children for good reason.

Finally, the player is forced to choose the lesser of two evils to determine the game’s ending, which results in them either damning themselves to a lifetime trapped in the titular forest or escaping – the latter of which brings with it one last, disturbing twist. It’s this twist which gives “The Forest” an edge over similarly-plotted games like “BioShock”, where the ending also hinges on the player’s treatment of defenceless children throughout the campaign. The nuance and moral greyness of “The Forest’s” final choice is what makes it truly unique.

Finally, the gameplay itself. “The Forest” is a natural continuation of the exploration and survival genre. Unlike in many other games, here you actually have to worry about the items in your inventory going rotten, about the detriments of consuming bad food or unclean water, making the player directly conscious of negative health effects. While the system is nowhere near as advanced as in something like “SCUM,” it’s also much intricate than “State of Decay” or “We Happy Few.”

There’s also standard base building and crafting mechanics, as well as an inventory system that, while limited, is interesting and uniquely designed. Lastly, the behaviour of the enemies and NPCs is brilliantly original; the cannibal mutants in “The Forest” won’t always attack on sight or come across as hostile. Instead, they can taunt the player character – who may or may not have the means to defend themselves at that time – by lingering nearby, not actually attacking, but can switch from friendly to hostile in an instant. This pervasive threat creates a rarely-exploited feeling of paranoia, and even playing co-op with your friends isn’t enough to quite disengage from the insidious horror of “The Forest.”

The years Endnight Games spent working on “The Forest” show vividly through their finished product, a masterful blending of genres with a gripping story and a great setting, making it more than worthy of being our pick for the best horror game of 2018.

But lets be real: It’s going to get overshadowed by the imminent release of the “Resident Evil 2 Remake”. Am I right?

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