Co-op horror build ‘em up Sons of the Forest is out now in Early Access, and in addition to being absolutely terrifying – there’s a cave near the spawn that I would not recommend you visit – it’s also got some incredibly detailed building mechanics and crafting.
Yes, when you’re not surviving from a mutant cannibal infested forest and whatever plot will be revealed after i’ve played for more than two hours, you’ll be spending time cutting back bushes, gathering berries, gathering water and food and, finally, taking your trusty tactical axe to every tree in the area as you try to build a more permanent shelter.
Crafting feels like a very physical thing. To build a burning skull lamp, the earliest light source you can build, you’ll need to slam a stick down into the ground, cover it with cloth and then wedge the skull on top. Crafting a spear will see your character in the inventory wrapping the handle in duct-tape before sharpening the end with a survival knife. It’s a tactile experience and one that immediately endeared me to a game that I shouldn’t be playing due to my latent horror-phobia and natural fear of being eaten alive by mutant cannibals.
Those cannibals, bizarrely, will often spend their time observing you as you scuffle around your base, charging in for the attack whenever your back is turned. As a result, slowly building fortifications and traps is essential. Whether you’re building a stand to or a full log cabin, the most essential thing is that you’ll need logs and this is where woodcutting comes in, one of the most detailed aspects of the game in a genre that often just wants you to wave an axe or your fist in the direction of a tree to get your hands on logs.
Yes, to chop a tree down you’ll run up to it and start hitting it with an axe, but here as you do so you’ll be able to watch the tree deforming under your blows as it slowly gives way. The answer to this is to slowly walk around the outside of the tree and cutting neatly in circles slowly hollowing out the tree until it breaks away, creaking and groaning as it comes down to earth.
Then, you gather up as much of the logs as you can carry and waddle my way over to the log storage pile. Buildings often require full logs to be built, but they can also ask for half or quarter logs, and when this happens you can just stand the log up and go at it with your axe again, neatly dividing it before slamming those chunks of wood into the ghostly frame of your building-in-progress.
Building and crafting are really phenomenal in the game, even in this incredibly early iteration, but felling trees and taking care of the logs afterwards feels like a bit of an art form, and this scratches a part of my lizard brain that wants to improve and optimise, until I’m suddenly trying to master this art form. This means cutting down every tree a little differently trying to test all of the ways in which I can make the tree chopping a little faster, enabling me to build a corner of the forest into a safe haven even quicker.
That weight and heft to the resource gathering, crafting and building all help to make the survive part of the survive and thrive survival game loop even more compelling, and while I usually despise having to be the “base guy” in these sorts of games, now I couldn’t be happier than having a quiet stroll through the woods gathering logs.
We’ll have more opinions on Sons of the Forest in the near future, but for now I’m happily deforesting my particular area of this survival horror hellscape and desperately trying to avoid the squeals and grunting that comes from outside the base each night.