Sons of the Forest is an immersive survival/crafting horror game that was released into Steam Early Access just a week ago. It is also the sequel to The Forest, an influential yet janky member of the same genre. Despite its flaws and age, The Forest still manages to rack up tens of thousands of concurrent players on a regular basis. Does Sons of the Forest look and feel like it could have the same trajectory?
There are plenty of reasons for this, but one of the most apparent is the difference in presentation. Sons of the Forest keeps the DNA of the previous game, and even begins with a similar aircraft disaster that leaves you stranded on the island at a few possible different locations. However, it looks way more impressive.
"Sons of the Forest keeps the DNA of the previous game, and even begins with a similar aircraft disaster that leaves you stranded on the island at a few possible different locations. However, it looks way more impressive."
The Forest was in Early Access for four years, but the graphics never seemed to really improve much. Sometimes it looked pretty good, but most of the time its presentation was immersion-breaking or even silly. That has never been a problem in my time with Sons of the Forest.
Human companions, cannibals, mutants, and animals all look and act extremely lifelike, and the dense, lush forests you explore are just as good-looking, allowing for more consistent immersion throughout. The labyrinthine dark cave systems also make a return, but I couldn’t bring myself to explore those too much. They’re every bit as spooky as you’d hope. I found myself spending much more time building safe houses next to calm, babbling streams surrounded by all of the wildlife of the island, which is relaxing enough to almost make you forget about the horrors that are constantly moving at the corners of your vision.
The addition of changing seasons creates even more visual variety along with plenty of additional gameplay mechanics that weren’t present in The Forest. The need to periodically adapt to the changes new seasons bring keeps things interesting and prevents players from getting too comfortable. Those food sources and shelters you set up in the Summer? Those are all but useless or non-existent come Fall and Winter. You’ll need to stay warm and dry while also dealing with more aggressive cannibals and mutants, who are just as desperate for resources as you are.
At least this time around, scrounging for resources and building shelter is much less tedious thanks to the addition of your AI companion, Kelvin. Kelvin is in pretty bad shape after the helicopter crash, which seems to have left him with burst eardrums. He can’t hear anything, so instead, you write notes on a notepad and show him using a very intuitive and inventive system. You can only tell him to do a handful of things, but I never found myself wishing there were more orders to give him. It’s very well-designed. In my playthrough, Kelvin was mostly assigned to the drudgery of collecting sticks and stones or moving logs. Processes that are extremely boring, but necessary to get to the real meat of Sons of the Forest: crafting.
"The addition of changing seasons creates even more visual variety along with plenty of additional gameplay mechanics that weren’t present in The Forest. The need to periodically adapt to the changes new seasons bring keeps things interesting and prevents players from getting too comfortable."
Sons of the Forest uses a completely revamped crafting system that is incredibly immersive. The process of building sturdy shelter is no longer tapping a button to watch things pop into place to fill in an outline. Now, the player character has animations to place logs and even chop them in half if the construction calls for it. There is also a new freeform method of building that can be used alongside the previous game’s blueprint system. If you want to get really creative and build complex structures, you can even add on to blueprint constructions with the freeform system. The added complexity of the freeform system takes a little bit of time to get used to, but the possibilities it provides will make that time more than worth it for creatively-minded players.
The inventory screen has also been improved. Instead of the blue tarp with your various items scattered all around it, you now have an organized mat with pouches and places for just about everything you collect, with separate containers for guns and other important items. Having things more organized is much more visually pleasing, but it also creates a separate problem. You collect SO MANY THINGS that your inventory mat is massive out of necessity. Crafting resources are exiled to the outside corners of your mat, so you’ll be panning down and around more often than not when crafting. Watching your character actually sharpen sticks and bind them together to make spears makes the inconvenience worth it though, and I don’t think there is a better way Endnight could have implemented this style of inventory screen.
For the next part of this review, I’m going to level with you a little bit. I only played the original The Forest for a handful of hours over the course of many years. The gameplay and concept are incredibly compelling, but I found it… very scary. Cannibals rushing you through bushes, flying flesh monsters, mutant creatures combining like Voltron into nightmarish configurations, it was a lot.
Sons of the Forest is way worse.
I can’t tell if this is because of the much-improved graphics or enemy AI, but horror hounds will likely salivate at the messed-up things Sons of the Forest has in store. Your initial introduction to the island is handled by monkey-like cannibals that scurry around on all fours while also climbing and leaping from tree to tree. These actions were enough to put me on edge, but just stopping to watch these things made something else apparent: they’re intelligent. They aren’t initially hostile, but they will circle you and make sounds to summon their friends and outnumber you. Running away is usually enough to lose them, but when you’re building a base and you hear rustling and barks from deep in the forest, the sense of dread is unmatched.
"Sons of the Forest uses a completely revamped crafting system that is incredibly immersive. The process of building sturdy shelter is no longer tapping a button to watch things pop into place to fill in an outline. Now, the player character has animations to place logs and even chop them in half if the construction calls for it."
There are also more organized groups of cannibals that manage to be even more imposing, giant cannibals with immense power, terrifying pale eyeless flesh mutants, the horrible vertical maw with legs from the trailers, and plenty of other things I didn’t have time to analyze because I was too busy running away. It’s much safer at my fortified base by the water.
All things considered, Sons of the Forest is an immediate success, and the game is not even complete yet. More content and gameplay improvements will no doubt be made over the course of its stint in Early Access, which means it will probably get better over time. Endnight clearly took the things they learned from their time developing The Forest and used them to make the definitive version of the game they set out to make almost a decade ago.
At its current price, the value that Sons of the Forest provides is rare these days, and it is absolutely worth your time.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Fantastic graphics; Impressive enemy AI; Vastly improved crafting.
Unwieldy inventory interface.