Sons of the Forest Hands-on Preview – Man vs. Cannibal

Posted on March 15, 2023

Sons of the Forest is the sequel to the hugely popular The Forest, bringing with it some new features and quality-of-life improvements, whilst still retaining the freedom to explore and survival aspects that made the original so popular.

For the uninitiated, Sons of the Forest is first and foremost a survival game. The crux of the experience consists of crafting various tools and weapons to survive a hostile island, along with erecting various structures and buildings to create a safe haven for your character to return to after a hard day of work collecting near-endless resources, all while fending off a host of hostile enemies and uncovering a conspiracy that runs deep through the island.

The game begins with you on a helicopter as part of a mercenary team hired to travel to “Site 2” to search for Edward Puffton and his wife Barbara and daughter Virginia – who have been missing for months now. Fairly quickly the helicopter is shot down by unknown assailants, leading to you and your team crashing in the snowy mountains with most of your crew killed in the crash.

From here, you are mostly left to your own devices. There is very little hand-holding in Sons of the Forest. You are not immediately met with a marker on the map pinpointing where you need to go, and you are not given a new objective to guide the way. Essentially, from the moment you take control of your character, you are able to do whatever and go wherever you want.

You will start off with a few key tools and items such as a GPS map, a hatchet, and a knife, along with some lootable containers scattered around the immediate vicinity of the crash site. You can then assist a nearby NPC named Kelvin who survived the crash but is now deaf. This is one of the changes from the original that really makes a huge difference, though it does come with its drawbacks.

Kelvin is essentially your AI companion for your journey, capable of assisting with a range of tasks. Whilst Sons of the Forest can be played co-op with up to 8 friends, Kelvin is designed to be an aid for those of us that want to journey alone. The unique aspect here is that due to Kelvin losing his hearing, any instructions that you give him must first be written down on a notepad to present to Kelvin so that he knows what you are requesting. Whilst Kelvin can be super helpful in surviving the island and keeping you alive and gathering resources, he does have some bugs that can make for some frustratingly funny moments.

There was a time when I had built a small treehouse for myself to stay in, but I needed a final touch-up to the building so I instructed Kelvin to go and gather some more logs for me to finish my grand design. Unfortunately, Kelvin decided that the best tree to cut down and collect wood from was the one that my treehouse was attached to, which immediately destroyed my building, ending with Kelvin turning to me and giving me a thumbs up to signify he has completed his task. I was instantly annoyed but also bemused by Kelvin’s thumbs up assuming that he had done a great job. The AI for Kelvin isn’t the greatest, and at the best of times he is a minor assistance for those wishing to play alone, but most of the time he is more of a liability.

The idea of an AI companion is great in theory, it helps to cut through the isolated feeling you will experience, but for such an important addition to the game, it would have been nice if he didn’t have as many bugs as he does – though this may improve with further updates and fixes.

Exploring the island is quite fascinating. As I mentioned earlier, there is very little in the way to guide towards a specific objective. Your GPS map does contain some markers highlighting areas of interest and caves to explore, though you are not pigeonholed into heading to any one specific area. This creates a vast sense of exploration as you can venture anywhere your heart desires, and whilst the efforts to survive are challenging, they are mostly manageable. It is easy enough to find food and water to keep your thirst and hunger bars full, and building a makeshift tent is as easy as placing a sheet on a couple of sticks. A lot of time will be spent hunting for animals or going fishing to ensure that you have enough food on hand to survive, just make sure you have a campfire set up as eating raw meat will get you sick – and you cannot afford to get sick when you are constantly in danger in some way, shape, or form.

The building element in Sons of the Forest has had an overhaul from its predecessor, making for a more seamless experience, but at the same time provides many frustrating moments. You have a guidebook that contains various diagrams of buildings and objects that you can create, but these are little more than basic illustrations showing the steps to create the desired building or object, so it can take some getting used to. However, for the most part, it all works quite well. Simply put, once you know the necessary materials required you just lay them out in a design that you like, such as placing tree logs on the ground to create a floor, placing more upright to create walls, and using your hatchet to carve out windows and door openings.

“I quickly cut myself loose and tried to recover my equipment, but was stopped by the sight of a lady with three arms standing over me”

You check your inventory in real-time, allowing you to roll out a mat that seems to hold an impossible amount of items and objects. This is where you will monitor your inventory, craft some essential tools, and hotkey your favourite items – which is a must as getting caught without easy access to weapons can leave you in a terrible situation if you find yourself being hunted by cannibals.

Tents and completed buildings will allow you to save your game, so it is important to return to these every now and then as dying can be a common experience and being set back by an hour can be frustrating especially if you have put a tonne of work into creating buildings and gathering resources.

If you are not a fan of tedious and time-consuming gameplay then this may not be the game for you. You will spend a large majority of your time gathering resources such as wood and rocks to lug back to your base to stockpile and build further structures, along with ensuring that you are actively hunting for food. All of this on its own is hard enough, but adding to the tension are the cannibals that inhabit the island who will be a persistent threat regardless of if you search for them or not, as they will always find you.

Encountering your first cannibal in Sons of the Forest can be a very horrifying experience as they often appear with little to no warning. My first encounter was whilst I was chopping down some trees, I noticed something crawling about not too far from me, and when taking a closer look, noticed that it was a naked man walking on all fours watching me.

This instantly freaked me out as he wasn’t instantly hostile, he was curious and watching what I was doing from afar. As I continued on I noticed that he got closer. I paid no attention after deciding he wasn’t a threat. Out of nowhere I took damage and realised that he was throwing rocks at me now. I then proceeded to chase him away with my axe, which worked, but he quickly reappeared and this time decided to attack me head-on.

I did not survive this fight and was knocked out, awakening tied to a post with a couple of upright cannibals guarding me. I quickly cut myself loose and tried to recover my equipment, but was stopped by the sight of a lady with three arms standing over me. I immediately turned to run away but was quickly struck down and killed by a nearby cannibal wielding a knife. This led to my death and having to start again.

The cannibals and various creatures all have a unique design, with a majority of them being instantly offputting and grotesque, not only in the way they act but in the way they dress – some of them wear intestines like a weird fleshy belt. Their AI isn’t the greatest though, and whilst they will not always instantly attack, instead coming across as more curious, once you have spent enough time on the island you will begin to receive a far more hostile reaction.

You are able to craft a host of makeshift weapons and find some firearms such as pistols and crossbows, so further playthroughs had me a little more prepared and able to venture further into the island as my knowledge and understanding of the game and mechanics grew. This is vital to the experience as with each new tool or building you create, you will feel a little more confident to traverse further and for longer, whilst also allowing you to enter areas that you previously were not able to.

This is where Sons of the Forest excels. The euphoric feeling of venturing out from your neatly constructed home, knowing that this time you are that little bit more equipped, prepared, and aware of the layout of the land never gets old. If it weren’t for the endless threat of cannibals looking to make you their next meal, this could be a rather cathartic experience.

Whilst the island is beautiful to explore, being a significant improvement from the original game and introducing changing weather and seasons to further complicate your survival journey, it can feel somewhat empty. There are various caves to explore but a majority of these amount to nothing more than finding a few crates at the end with some loot. The original game had some more intricate cave systems which required careful exploration and required the use of various tools to traverse.

I do not want to spoil the story of the game, but you will find some other underground structures that contain various notes and emails that whilst redacted, provide some further clarification on what has happened with the island. Much like the open world, there isn’t any one specific way that the story unfolds, most of this is up to you to piece together. You have to put two-and-two together to better understand the world from the information that you find.

Special shoutout to the 80’s synth-wave-inspired main menu music – I could listen to that for hours.

Sons of the Forest is not a perfect game, it has many flaws, but sometimes these flaws add to the charm of the game. It can be tedious, and there are a few frustrating moments that you will constantly encounter, but the pure ecstasy of exploring an unknown island, trying to survive in a manner that you want, gathering resources and loot, and creating structures is an absolute thrill and can become quite addicting. If you are a fan of the original or somewhat curious about survival games then it is well worth giving Sons of the Forest a chance. You will likely find something to enjoy out of the experience, and what flaws it does have will likely diminish as the game comes out of early access and gains further patches.