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Sons of the Forest early access review - hungry for more

Our Sons of the Forest early access review finds all the bone-chilling cannibal action of its predecessor, but with plenty of room to grow yet further.

Sons of the Forest reivew: An an gry cannibal takes a swipe with a club.

Our Verdict

As twisted as its predecessor, with solid survival mechanics and gory gameplay. It's in early access and has more room to grow, but allowing for this, it's essential for horror and survival fans alike, and made even better with friends.

Our Sons of the Forest early access review finds this long-awaited sequel to The Forest full of the kind of spooky atmosphere that’s enough to make even the most iron-willed among us squirm in our seats. It’s a fantastic game, though not for the faint of heart, and not without its flaws. It’s still in early access, so is planned to grow in scope and scale, but for now there’s a nagging feeling that Sons of the Forest may have bitten off slightly more than it can chew.

The game is certainly fun and engaging, and feels worth the price of admission for only $30, especially given the promise of continuous updates. But it’s important to note just how much it feels like The Forest. Sure, there’s more vegetation, a bigger map, new build mechanics, more variety in crafting and weaponry, and creepier mutants — but it sort of feels like you’ve seen it all before. Perhaps that’s the point: to take what worked and build from there, literally and figuratively.

The Forest, redux

The story begins with a plane crashing into a remote island, mimicking that of its predecessor, though a few elements are new. One difference is that in this case, you headed to the island intentionally in an attempt to find a missing billionaire. The game draws on a twisted, humorous sensibility to build its narrative through environmental storytelling, just like its predecessor.

In many ways, this storyline, paired with the familiarity of the environment, makes Sons of the Forest feel less like a sequel than an upgraded version of the original game. The basics are the same: survive cannibal attacks, explore the island, and fight mutants in spooky cave dwellings.

Sons of the Forest review: A baby-like mustant being.

It’s easy to see why the developers chose to release the game in early access. It’s certainly fun to play, just as The Forest was a great game as well. But you can see where the devs have left themselves room to fill in the details; the map is huge, and some parts feel remote and barren. Perhaps this is a good thing for players who seek to avoid cannibals and mutants, but the smaller map in the original game provided more opportunities to wander across random elements.

However, the developers have done a fantastic job creating a realistic-seeming world to rival those of triple-A studios. The ferns and shrubbery appear to have texture, and the snowy night visuals have the impact of making your physical environment feel cold. Mix in some burly cannibals and sinister background screaming from deranged humanoid creatures, and that beautifully designed backdrop becomes a hellscape designed to exploit your worst nightmares.

Sons of the Forest – navigation challenges

As an open-world game, Sons of the Forest is not linear, and part of the fun is – or is supposed to be – working out what to do next. You have a GPS tracker that guides you to some locations, and that’s helpful to a degree, but I would have liked a way to add tags to certain locations, without which I kept having to look up the Sons of the Forest map to navigate the game. You find GPS locators eventually, but the need to find them is an obstacle that doesn’t make much sense to me; unless you enjoy a lot of monotonous, aimless wandering, it just pushes you out of the game.

Hence I was constantly battling between trying to outlive mutants and cannibals and hoping to find the items I needed to progress. The keycards. The shovel. The shotgun and other big-ticket items from the Sons of the Forest weapons list. How long should it take a person to find these things without resorting to looking them up?

Sons of the Forest review: A mutant being attacks.

Perhaps that’s what gives the multiplayer mode a broader appeal, as players can assist one another and work together to defend against hordes of cannibals while covering more area in a shorter time. Your first in-game companion, Kelvin, can do a lot for you, but he can’t help you figure out where you’re going.

But once you start tracking down the items you need to survive? Then it’s game on. It took quite some time to traverse the island to find the pistol, but once I found it, that’s when the madness truly began. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that a strong weapon doesn’t make this game easy, since you still need to conserve ammo while surviving ongoing attacks. But it does feel good to be able to one-shot a cannibal after spending several days relying on your spear and bow-and-arrow to survive.

Sons of the Forest – survival struggle

Sons of the Forest adds an interesting difficulty spike as resources become sparse in the winter. When it’s cold and the lakes and rivers have frozen over, you no longer have easy access to fish, meat, or other items you need, meaning it’s a race against time to prepare yourself properly – and adding a nicely horrific twist in that chopping up your enemies becomes a tempting option for food. Sometime around Day 12 is where things get thoroughly intense, and though I could have employed several cheeses (meaning unintentionally advantageous tactics, not the foodstuff) to stock up and survive the winter, I chose to restart and prepare more adequately for the next time around. That I wasn’t tempted to ‘cheat’ is a good sign.

Everything is harder when it’s cold. You’ll rarely get your stats where you want them unless you find the materials you need to stay warm in time. There’s almost a roguelike loop in this: as I better understand the map, I’m able to more quickly acquire the essentials I need to keep me warm in winter. But in my early playthroughs, it was a roll of the dice with the hope that I ended up going in the right direction and finding the things I need without dying. Whether you enjoy this is probably a matter of taste, but personally I found this feeling of randomness a slightly less-than-satisfying consequence of the game’s non-linear structure.

Sons of the Forest’s multiplayer experience is its own beast. In this mode, the plane crashed in an entirely new location. The cannibals came out in full force almost immediately, making it tough to establish anything as new players struggled to get used to the learning curve. The good news is that anytime we were captured, it was fairly easy for us to get away, but even after hours of play it felt like we’d barely made any progress. While we weren’t exactly trying to speedrun it, it would have been nice to introduce other players to the caves and other features instead of simply fending off cannibals while trying to build a basic structure. Perhaps we’d attempted to build too close to a cannibal camp, but on the topic of readability again, there was no way of knowing that until we were well into the project.

Sons of the Forest review: A death screen in the survival horror game.

Sons of the Forest – a great game for genre fans

Sons of the Forest is an utterly engrossing game, and in losing myself in it, hours went by as I explored. For me, the main concerns are in content density, lack of direction, and a lingering feeling of being unfinished which, to be fair, is totally understandable from an early-access title. The building is a little clunky. There are visual issues with certain animations. It’s also thrown up many hilarious glitches, including a physics issue that launched my character into the sky while chopping down a tree.

If you can tolerate these issues, it’s absolutely still worth playing. All that aside, Endnight definitely has a winner on its hands here. And, with a plan for more updates, which will hopefully include quality-of-life improvements and more things to do, Sons of the Forest will more than live up to the legacy of its namesake.

If you’ve already jumped in and are enjoying it, you’ll want to see our Sons of the Forest building guide and Sons of the Forest tips. For more spooky thrills, check out our guide to the best horror games on PC.