"If you go down to the woods today..."
Gamers aren’t always known for their outdoorsy lifestyles, generally because they prefer virtual worlds filled with amazing digital landscapes to explore instead. And that’s the route Decoder has gone down for its first virtual reality (VR) title Forestry, for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (reviewed). Mixing up exploration and wood chopping skills, Forestry isn’t so much about admiring the landscape, as it is about bringing it down to your level.
Gameplay begins in a fairly rudimentary style. Dropped into the middle of a forest, your given a couple of axes and the ability to free-roam around this green and verdant land. There’s a (very) brief audio tutorial on what the controls do, but for anyone who’s spent even a short period of time in VR these are easy to pick up. There are no tasks, challenges, or fixed path to follow, it’s just you and your axes.
The first port of call is to get get a feel for the mechanics which aren’t realistic in the lightest. This is a light-hearted experience where you can fell trees – no matter the size – with one swift swing of your axe. They can then be slashed to pieces or grabbed and flung around at whim. While fun to begin with, just hacking trees to dust doesn’t really make for a long lasting experience, you need to go exploring.
Decoder has gone for the tried and tested teleportation to wander around and there’s certainly lots to investigate. The rolling hills and forest seemingly go on for miles and there’s a dirt path to follow if you don’t want to get lost – so you don’t end up walking around in circles. To truly uncover the secrets of Forestry you do need to wander off that beaten track. While the art style does make for a rich environment, repetition does quickly set in. There’s hills, trees (only one type in various sizes), rocks and some grass, with the odd campsite through in for good measure, and that’s pretty much all you’ll see for most of the video game.
But that exploration isn’t without its reward. Decoder has luckily seen fit to hide plenty of little secrets around the world, from target ranges and giant statues to (if you look really well) a beta version of some lightsaber’s. Why hack down trees with a boring old axe when you can use a sci-fi blade of death. And those previously mentioned physics also apply to your weapons, so you can fling them around the forest as if gravity doesn’t exist, for some long range tree chopping.
So what does all this deforestation lead to? Building is what. All the trees can then be used to create whatever your mind sees fit to build, whether that’s a log cabin, a massive statue or any other weirdness. Unfortunately don’t start thinking you’ll be able to construct Minecraft-esque magnitude projects. Forestry’s collision detection and graphics aren’t always that stable for building projects. Destruction, yeah fine that’s no problem, making sure everything stays in place on the other hand can be a time consuming and frustrating chore. Especially if you’ve got the axe in your hand and with one slight (accidental) touch, everything is split in two.
Forestry certainly has its quirks. It can go from dull to intriguing to fun in quick succession, and those that have the patience for this type of experience will certainly enjoy what it has to offer. In its current form Decoder should really have put Forestry in Steam Early Access, getting some feedback and fine tuning the video game, as it stills feels some fine tuning is needed.