Sons of the Forest: Uninspired Sequel or Worthy Successor to The Forest?

By Shaan Khan

Screenshot Courtesy of Endnight Games on YouTube

Fears have arisen over the highly anticipated sequel to The Forest that was delayed one month before its original release window of May 2022. 

According to Endnight games on Twitter, the sequel’ Sons of the Forest is now ‘aiming’ to launch in October 2022.

The sudden decision has people nervous that we possibly have another Cyberpunk 2077 on our hands, where the game gets stuck in development hell and delivers us a product that doesn’t match the quality represented in early trailers and past work from the developers & publisher.

A video trailer of Sons of the Forest (SotF) was revealed in 2019 at The Game Awards. It came as a surprise to many; not often do you find indie studios presenting games with the level of immersive details SotF had—especially in comparison to other survival horror games.

Those old-timers who witnessed the reveal of The Forest back in 2014 had felt similarly, then became tired of other survival horror games failing to capture the uniqueness of The Forest. It’s no wonder the game still averages 10,000 to 30,000 players per month on Steam since 2020. In fact, the player base in prior years to 2020 is dwarfed in comparison.

So, The Forest grows more popular, reaching an all-time peak player count on Steam with 63,683 users back in April 2021! Still, from the perspective of a veteran player of The Forest, another fear beyond the delay that persists is whether the sequel can harbour the same magic as the first?

The Formula that Set the Standards to Survival Horror

The Forest was a first-person, open-world, indie survival horror game developed by only four people and when it officially launched in 2018—it had sold five million copies in that first year.

It was a commercial & critical success that banked on its original concept. At the time, most survival games were online PvP games set in open worlds themed around zombies, such as DayZ, WarZ, H1Z1…and a plethora of other games that threw a Z in their names.

Story

Then came this game with no Zs in its name, awakening gamers with a new concept on their hands. Where you play solo or co-op in an isolating world made to feel tense, dramatic and dangerous without the threat of other players, but an accumulation of well thought out game designs to deeply entrench you into an immersive experience both brutal and terrifying.

You play as a dad searching for his son on a remote island of cannibal tribes and mutants. The story is non-linear; you basically progress by increasing your chances of survival in a world made to be realistically unforgiving.

Immersion

You can starve, freeze or get killed, the basic foundations of any survival game. But almost everything can be interacted with in the most realistic ways possible. You don’t just press E on an item then it magically turns up in your inventory. Neither are you taken out of the game to access the inventory. There is an animation for almost everything and physics makes sense! Leaves flutter in the wind and you actually chip away at a tree when slamming an axe to it until it goes timber!

There’s no running around willy-nilly; danger is everywhere. Including unsanitary water and meat that makes you sick if you consume them. So you’ve got to craft tools, buildings and learn about survival and your environment; that’s why there’s an in-game manual—the integral support for creativity and development in The Forest.

Building

Arguably The Forest is still one of the most creative survival games out there, especially factoring in its immersive prowess, which many other creative survival games struggle to capture.

The manual tells you how to build absolutely anything with resources and tools around you. It wasn’t just all pre-set buildings, too. There’s flexibility to what you create; it’s why the game is so popular; it off-shooted a community dedicated to building and sharing their creations on forums, YouTube and Twitch for others to see and get inspiration from.

Players have managed to build towns in The Forest—showcasing the unrestricted potential of the building tools at your disposal in-game.

Sons of the Forest – Promises & Expectations

Firstly, it’s evident in the final two trailers of Sons of the Forest that we likely won’t see any fundamental changes to the concept. Both trailers were captured in-real time, highlighting beloved mechanics from The Forest but with added polish.

However, there also was a wide variety of new features and some changes, but will they tarnish the fundamental experience of The Forest?

Militarised & Modernised Survival

Survival in the sequel now has more of a militarised & modernised theme as opposed to some average unlucky guy stranded on an island trying to survive.

The start of the trailer shows you and a squadron in combat gear on a military helicopter. Also, guns and bombs are present throughout the game, to list a few:

  • Shotguns
  • Grenades
  • Tasers
  • Pistols
  • Rifles
  • Stun Batons

Screenshot Courtesy of Endnight Games on Twitter

The militant vibe captured in the trailers and screenshots seems reminiscent of the popular survival-horror game series of Resident Evil or Dino Crisis. Fittingly, the devs mention that ammo is scarce and melee weapons are still the go-to weapons of choice for combat.

Building & crafting is less bushcraft than The Forest. A trailer shows the protagonist entering a bunker and coming across modern tools such as a 3D printer. Devs confirm the 3D printer can be used to create items. You will need to secure resin for the printer that allows you to create multi-coloured objects.

This implication of the printer means there is a greater option for custom personalisation. A confirmed use for the 3D printer is to create a tribal mask that allows you to disguise yourself as a cannibal.

Some other modern tools include:

  • Solar Panels
  • Batteries
  • Chainsaw
  • Electric Lights
  • Heaters

The survival experience will revolve around battery-powered items and electricity through renewable energy. The potential of the technology could create far more advanced and sustainable structures than The Forest—in theory, you could have the power to turn the remote savage island into an island resort depending on the items and materials the devs or modders provide you!

Speaking of mods, Endnight games have mentioned that Steam Workshop support for Sons of the Forest is likely, so mods have not been ruled out officially.

Artificial Intelligence:

The devs have gone on record to say that a key area of focus is Artificial Intelligence (AI). The Forest’s AI was a selling point, especially the first encounters with cannibals who had uncanny reactions, behaviours and movements when discovering you.

There was a sense that cannibals had a thought process of whether they would be aggressive, fearful or stalk you. Their level of confidence varied on each individual and would react accordingly when you had a weapon and became more hostile or scared the more you attacked them and built up your defences.

Sometimes you would notice that AI would get braver when in larger groups led by powerful chiefs. 

Sons of the Forest plan to expand the hierarchy of cannibal tribes by introducing more enemy types with different threats. In certain locations you visit, such as caves, you will notice different behaviours in the cannibals. Also, there is in-fighting amongst cannibal tribes which will spice up the drama more.

Cannibals are no longer just enemies you fight; now you can communicate with them, leading to the possibility of trading and forming allies. Combining this information with the fact that sustainable living is present in the game makes me believe that a fully functioning settlement with reformed cannibal occupants could be plausible!

Improved AI also increases the drama between you and enemies. For instance, if you decapitate a cannibal’s head and hold it up to its tribe, they emotionally react to the powerful gesture that affects their behaviour—injecting the game with greater realism.

Screenshot Courtesy of Endnight Games on Twitter

Gameplay & World Building:

Animations look more fluid since Endnight games have deployed motion capture for SotF—the same motion capture technology used by various developers for Triple-A games provided by Beyond Capture studio.

There have been glimpses of new animations and gestures present in SotF, making interacting with objects more life-like. To mention a few I’ve seen:

  • Putting up paper targets on trees for weapon practice
  • Chomping down on a fish with its exposed guts on display—gross yet sublime attention-to-detail
  • Setting up tarps
  • Chipping away at logs to shape them with a pointed end

SotF is developed on the latest version of Unity Engine with new rendering and lighting effect. Weather effects are enhanced with realistic physics where water droplets can appear on your weapons when it rains, or water can freeze or flow over rocks.

There is little information on the type of structures you can build in SotF. Still, on numerous occasions, the devs have recognised the value of creativity in The Forest and have emphasised their dedication to providing creative tools for the sequel.

The world map is confirmed to be 4-5 times larger than The Forest, with a greater presence of a snow biome and points of interests compared to the first game.

A major new feature that could quite literally be ground-breaking for SotF is the digging mechanic, potentially opening a new avenue of hidden traps, mining resources and even underground settlements!

Digging also allows you to bury bodies and access caves—a fitting addition to The Forest experience.

Conclusion

Sons of the Forest seems to improve on the stuff we loved with The Forest. The delays and lack of information on building and wildlife might not sound promising, but The Forest formula seems well and truly alive in SotF.

One glaring concern is whether the militarised and modernised theme of SotF will negatively impact the original formula, but only time will tell.

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