Unlike other games in the genre, The Forest, the survival horror game from Canadian studio Ednight Games, not only brought us the popular survival and crafting format, but also incorporated a surprisingly complex storyline with cannibals and mutants. With the immediate arrival of its highly anticipated sequel, Sons of the Forest, you must not only deal with the pressure of loving the original game, but also the addition of wild new surprises. And, based on the five hours I’ve been able to play so far, I’m not just excited about the sequel potentialbut I also have full confidence that Endnight can revolutionize the survival genre.
The Forest began with a simple premise: you landed on a mysterious peninsula and began your quest for survival at all costs. There was also the optional objective of finding your kidnapped son, a task that would take you into a wild and unsettling warren populated by meat-hungry mutants. Sons of the Forest largely shares the same scheme, substituting your son for a missing billionaire. It’s a basic idea, but one that allows you to jump right into the action, allowing players who have no intention of furthering the rescue mission to focus solely on building their own lakeside resort with some friends right away.
Like its predecessor, you can play, build and cause mayhem with seven of your friends in co-op. But you can still see all that Sons of the Forest has to offer in single player. The big difference this time, however, is that even if you play alone, you are not alone. It’s Calvin.
Kalvin will not only provide companionship for solo players, but will put a dent in the hectic work of survival games.
At the beginning of Sons of the Forest, you are introduced to Kalvin, an elite soldier who not only survived the helicopter crash that left you stranded on the island, but also accompanies you in survival as an AI controlled companion. Although Kalvin has suffered a significant head injury that prevents him from speaking, his injuries have surprisingly not prevented him from being a great help. In an apparent effort to replicate the multiplayer experience for solo players, Kalvin will follow you around and respond to your commands through a bunch of handy quick select options on a notepad. He will be commanded to carry out your least desired tasks, such as felling trees and collecting logs.
During my test, I immediately realized the value of having an AI partner. It was very beneficial to send Kalvin out to find resources while my partner and I focused on designing our structure. I would often turn around to find a pile of logs at our disposal, with Kalvin already on his way to collect more. Kalvin not only keeps solo players company, but offers useful resources that save time even when in a group, putting a dent in the hectic work of survival games. This frees up more time to sculpt a masterpiece or get on with the quest to kill cannibals.
Nevertheless, Kalvin has a mind of his own, at least to a degree.. He sits down to rest when he is tired and looks for water when he is thirsty. He will also get angry if you treat him badly, which makes him less productive and lowers his value as a partner. And if you decide that you are not interested in having a worker bee by your side, you have the option to disable Kalvin in the most realistic way possible: shoot him in the head and you will remove him from your session, forever.
You are limited to one Kalvin per multiplayer session, so the dream of a legion of Kalvins cannot be fulfilled, but the developers assured me that there are other companions you can find as you progress, each with their own AI. During my game, I saw Virginia, a mutant with three arms and three legs. She scuttled away quickly as soon as I got close to her and certainly had a more skittish sensibilities than Kalvin, but the devs told me she can be recruited over time and will warm to you if you’re nice to her. They likened her instincts to those of an elusive and independent cat, contrasting with the obedient and affectionate dog that Kalvin turns out to be.
I saw enemies comforting their fallen friends, changing their clothes according to the weather, and even trying to destroy my newly built house when my back was turned.
But the AI improvements aren’t limited to companions. On our expeditions we come across various types of enemies, from packs of cannibals to mobs of monstrosities, each displaying impressive decision-making abilities. It gave the feeling that my enemies were thinking and making decisions based not only on my actions, but also on their situation and environment. Especially in first-person horror games, enemies often have two modes of behavior: patrolling and attacking. But in Sons of the Forest, some enemies were extremely cautious and interested in watching what I did, while others charged aggressively, only to back off when things didn’t go their way. I saw enemies comforting their fallen friends, changing clothes depending on the weather, and even trying to destroy my newly built home when my back was turned. It was clear that the “brains” of the enemies not only followed codified rules, but also adapted their thoughts based on external influences. The developers explained to me that certain enemies with leadership abilities can influence the decisions of others, even promoting ideas in their ranks like religion, and that each individual has their own tastes, desires and proclivities.
From the little I’ve had a taste of Sons of the Forest, I haven’t gotten an idea of how deep this system is and how much it will affect your experience. But the progress that I saw they filled my mind with dozens of possibilities. I saw how the enemies adapted to changes in their ecosystem and weather conditions (which now have seasonal cycles that change as you progress). I even accidentally sparked a war after stupidly opening the entrance to the game’s complex network of underground caves and unleashing a faction of mutants into another tribe’s domain. My simple decision caused a change in their living space and encouraged them to adjust their approach. And after that little taste of chaos, I can’t wait to see how flexible this system can be.
As expected, the forest that gives the games its name returns and looks better than ever. From the intricate density of the foliage to the magnificent rainfall and the stalactites of the beautifully lit caves (among the hanging corpses and mutant fetuses), the graphical power on display here rivals that of most triple-A releases. Enjoyed exploring it without the slightest hint of repetition in its design. And with the hint of bunkers and villages and God knows what else in a world that promises to be four times larger than the originalI can easily see myself getting lost and wandering in the desert for hours on end.
Each structural point presents not only a decision, but an opportunity to express yourself.
But on the bottom, Sons of the Forest is a survival game. So when you’re not exploring, chances are you’re building. The construction tools have been thoroughly overhauled in this sequel. Gone are the blue, floating ghost building blocks, replaced with a realistic and easy-to-use presentation of wild woodworking. The instructions are more literal and the actions contextual. Instead of being limited to loading resources into a ghost version of the final product, you are now free to manually position logs and sticks in any direction you want, allowing for complete customization of your structures instead of following a predetermined layout. My partner Kalvin and I immediately got to work building our own lakeside home, and what started as a traditional design immediately blossomed as we realized the only limitation was our imagination. You are working on each placement by hand, and therefore each structural point presents not just a decision, but an opportunity to express yourself. I was informed that purists can still go for more traditional, blueprint-based builds, but I found home-built much more appealing than the IKEA approach.
Then of course is the story optional. From the looks of the trailer, it’s supposed to be bigger and maybe even crazier than the original, and hopefully it’s going to continue directly from the ending of The Forest. But between the time spent building and fighting hordes of cannibals, I didn’t really get an idea of how the story was going to go beyond the initial premise. The story of The Forest felt very familiar to me, which I suppose makes sense in terms of getting players right into the action, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not worried that it could be a repeat. My hope is that this just serves as a starting point to go in some really crazy directions and that it develops a story line from the first game that still feels cohesive, but time will tell once I get my hands on the full game and get me away from building a replica Ewok village and destroying the lives of the unsuspecting locals.
Sons of the Forest seems to evolve and build on every aspect of its predecessor with a focus on realism and developing a flexible ecosystem, and it feels like the building blocks are there to create something truly special. But its most prominent feature is the addition of enemies and companions with impressively sophisticated and more intelligent artificial intelligence, which It could not only be a huge leap forward for the series, but for the survival game genre as a whole..