When was the last time you were properly disturbed at something the AI in a game did?
When was the last time you were excited after figuring out a new mechanic of a game?
When was the last time you were virtually shivering, hungry, wet, and trying to decide how to best secure your meager camp.. And having fun?
Sons of the Forest is a survival horror game with an emphasis on survival.. There’s certainly some suspenseful moments, and the game has some freaky experiences that disturb you in numerous ways, but ultimately it’s more like an adults-only realistic Minecraft without the punching of trees.
Let’s break it down and see how an early access title brought Steam to it’s knees for hours.
Sons of the Forest: The Setting
Sons of the Forest is a sequel to the popular survival horror game “The Forest”, and the developer made sure to keep what made The Forest so popular here.
Like The Forest, Sons of the Forest is a game that lets you do whatever you want, and doesn’t really hold your hand much. You can completely skip the storyline, doing whatever you like and just exploring.. But eventually you’ll find yourself uncovering bits of the story as you go assuming you want to continue to survive here.
While Sons of the Forest does offer multiplayer coop, it works easily as a singleplayer title, especially with NPC companions available to you.
You start off with Kelvin who was part of the same flight as you to figure out what went wrong at the mysterious island; he’s become deaf and mute after the crash, but he’s still a solid companion on your adventures throughout the island. You give him orders via a notepad, and he’ll do his thing.
You also happen upon Virginia, one of the inhabitants of the island you were tasked with finding.. Except, well, she’s changed a bit.
Along with her mutations, she seems to have lost the ability to communicate beyond some grunts, pointing, motioning you to follow, and.. A thumbs up.
Still, you don’t want to ignore her, because she’s quite possibly the most valuable person I’ve encountered on this island.
Sons of the Forest: Core Gameplay
The first thing you’ll probably want to mess with in this game is building, and building is something you can do a lot of.
Using your survival manual you can look up recipes for free-form stuff to build and just start placing objects wherever you like, or you can use more blueprint-focused builds to construct smaller objects like shelves, traps, fires and more.
Building out a base to store your stuff, sleep and more is going to be an important part, and the game really does succeed in giving you the tools and just letting you wing it.
Additionally, you can craft items in your inventory, such as arrows, armor and more. The crafting system is really well done here; As you unlock new recipes (by gaining new items) you just stick something in the center and see what you can make with it.
This encourages experimentation, and every time you find something new you’ll want to stick it in your crafting section to see what it’s used for.
Exploration is another critical part of the gameplay in Sons of the Forest; you’ll need to get outside the crash site to typically find where you want to build your base (although I ended up with the forest crash site, which I built my base near), gather supplies, and discover more secrets and tools on the island.
One such tool is a bunker with a 3d printer, which you’ll absolutely need to make use of in order to survive and continue.
Speaking of bunkers, as you explore you’ll find certain portions of bunkers locked via keycards. No spoilers here, but you’ll need to get some special tools to help you find keycards in order to explore these bunkers.
Ultimately, though, all of this boils down to the final core gameplay mechanic of Sons of the Forest: survival.
Even on Normal difficulty you’ll want to eat and drink in order to continue to function well in the hostile environment. Avoid eating bad berries, don’t eat rotten food, and stay warm during winter by building fires.
The seasons mechanic is really well done here; I’m finding myself absolutely HATING winter just because it changes the game significantly.. Not only is the lake I’m next to frozen over (so I have to go to a nearby stream instead to get water), but cannibals and mutants attack more frequently to get at my sweet, sweet resources.
Combat is challenging and fun, too; I hope you spent lots of time chopping down trees (and didn’t just leave the task to Kelvin), because you can build up your attack strength (and health) by chopping trees down.. And trust me, there is no way to 100% avoid combat unless you want the mutants to take over your camp and leave you without shelter for the night.
Mutants themselves provide an interesting dynamic over the cannibals. I’ve encountered a number of.. Interesting.. Foes, and each requires a different approach than the standard cannibal style enemies (and are infinitely more disturbing).
We can’t talk about combat, though, without mentioning the AI.
Sons of the Forest: The AI
Sons of the Forest is designed for emergent gameplay with it’s AI. While they aren’t the smartest bunch, the cannibals and mutants start out much more hesitant, observing you as you work.. Occasionally they’ll get bold, and at that point you’ll want to begin showing them who’s boss.
After a while they’ll start to attack structures and show up with bigger, badder foes to deal with.
Exploring leads to some fun encounters, too: I saw a group of cannibals crossing my path, so I hid in a bush to watch them. Some kept walking on, but eventually one that was trailing stopped, turned around, and walked back.. He eventually passed me hiding in the bush, so I jumped up only to realize he was up in the trees, and he made a call out as I was spotted.
I bolted, running hard and fast into the forest; I was far away from my base, and losing a fight means capture and being tied up at a cannibal camp, having to escape and find my way back (thankfully you don’t lose any critical supplies here, such as your GPS).
Combat against the AI is fun, too.. Some are more hesitant, feinting and jumping back, or even outright running if you charge at them. Others are exceptionally bold, walking or running up to you with a lot of confidence (and usually a sharp weapon): Time your strikes if you’re sticking with melee or you’ll end up seriously injured (or on the ground).
Kelvin himself is rather useless in a fight, but Virginia.. Let’s just say this: Find the pistol, and give it to her.
Trust me, she’ll make WAY better use of it than you will.
That isn’t to say that the AI is perfect; Virginia has walked through fire once or twice, and the pathing sometimes has them failing to intelligently navigate from point A to B because some furniture is in the way.
Still, given how free-form the game is I’m certainly not going to ding an early access title for having less than ideal AI pathing.. Which is the perfect time to talk about why Sons of the Forest is an early access title.
Sons of the Forest: Why early access?
The Forest itself started as an early access title; Sons of the Forest was initially planned as a standard release, but after two delays the developers decided to fall back on the early access concept just to get the game into the hands of gamers sooner.
It turns out this was a smart decision; Before release it was the most wishlisted game on Steam, and after having played it.. I mean, I’ve played worse, that’s for sure.
There’s plenty to be expected, but little direct information on what future updates will contain. Better AI pathing, performance, and more gameplay experiences are the obvious ones. Most likely we can expect some new crafting recipes; we’re currently lacking a good gate system for defensive walls, nor can we build over water at the moment, but other than that the future can only look brighter for Sons of the Forest.
Is Sons of the Forest worth it?
If you played Minecraft but wished it was a little less cutesy, want a free-form game that you can jump right into and do whatever you want, like survival mechanics, or just played The Forest and wanted more.. Yes. That’s an easy yes.
If you expect to be able to play the next Rambo, hate planning, and despise primitive weapons, skip this. You won’t have fun trying to survive, which is what this game is chiefly about.
Overall, I’m seriously having a blast in this game, and plan to put a lot more time into it.