So far I haven't found anyone chained to any trees...
This review is based on the Oculus Rift version of Forestry. It is also available for HTC Vive.
My tent is set up, my axes are sharpened, and I'm ready to get to work. Birds are chirping in the plentiful forest and the sun is shimmering off the nearby lake. It's peaceful here, but that peace is about to be destroyed by my cliche announcements of "Timber!" as I fell trees. This is Forestry and, as the name implies, you're going to be doing some chopping. Does this budget VR title for Vive and Rift offer a unique experience? It does. Is it worth adding to your library? Let's find out.
As the sun rises
Forestry has no main menu. You launch the game, you put on your head-mounted display, and you can immediately hear the birds chirping. You're in a small campsite with a tent, a radio, a cooler, and a collection of sharp tools, and there is a small sign in front of you with two buttons. You can choose to take the tutorial or you can choose to skip the tutorial.
If you take the tutorial — you can probably figure things out on your own if you've been enjoying other VR games — you're treated to a calm, retro voice that teaches you how to use your axes, how to teleport, and how to access the in-game menu that contains a reset button and a quality selector. There's no indication that the tutorial is finished, but the voice stops talking and doesn't start again. At that point you can grab your radio (who doesn't want to work without tunes) and decide what you want to do and where you want to go.
Running through the forest
Movement in Forestry is handled with teleportation. With the Rift's Touch controllers, you push either joystick forward to bring up an arc with a teleportation target at the end; release to move. You also use either joystick to snap-turn if you aren't using a full 360-degree setup.
One of the first things I did in the game was take a quick trip around the forest. I went as fast as the game allows and saw no drawing issues and didn't feel any motion sickness as I flew around. It's your standard teleportation mechanic that makes macro movements easy, but it gets frustrating when attempting micro movements.
There's no smart-touch function like you find in some other games that sort of guesses which item on the ground you're trying to pick up when you hover a hand over or near it. You have to teleport close to a tree and, if you have space, take a step or two and lean down to pick it up. These movements require precise teleportation, especially if you don't have a large play area.
If you hold the joystick forward and attempt to aim your teleportation with precision, it's quite possible you'll accidentally snap-turn yourself instead if you move the joystick a little bit to either side. You then have to snap-turn or physically turn your body back to face where you were initially aiming and try teleporting again.
Having the ability to use either hand and either joystick to both snap-turn and to teleport is necessary when you're trying to carry a log or two back to camp, but it makes precise movement a pain until you get used to treating the joysticks with gentle thumbs.
Most of these movement issues can be solved by having a wide-open play area. Instead of constantly having to teleport a bit closer to a tree you've just felled, you can simply walk up to it and pick it up. For this reason, you almost certainly don't want to try this game if you're in a situation where you only have standing or sitting room. A 360-degree setup isn't necessary if you're using a Rift, but it would certainly cut down on the amount of snap-turning required.
As far as actually chopping trees and collecting logs, Forestry is well-designed. Where your ax hits is where the wood will split. There's no real chopping needed; all wood is split with a single touch. You will generally find yourself felling large trees near the base before chopping them into smaller pieces to suit your needs. Any piece of wood can be picked up by touching it and hitting the grip button, and the same piece of wood can be placed in any position, floating or grounded or clipping the ground, by pulling the trigger on the same controller.
This lets you create anything you want, as long as it's made from logs and branches. The first thing I built was a stick-man so that I could have a friend, and the second thing I built was a crude cabin. A very crude cabin. It's clear as soon as you start chopping wood that it takes some practice to actually form your material into how you want it to look.
Small shavings can be removed from larger pieces of wood, and you can split smaller pieces into ever-smaller pieces if you'd like to create some sort of self-portrait mosaic. All wood is the same, though, so it would likely be a bland picture.
One of the problems with carving the wood into a form you want is the tendency to have pieces turn into shells when cut vertically. Instead of splitting a log vertically to create something like a bench seat, you'll instead sometimes end up with two troughs.
The trees are alive
Something you'll notice very early on in the game is the hit detection and the scenarios it can cause. Instead of this being considered a problem, it's definitely something that adds to the underlying humor found in the game. You can chop down a tree at the base of the trunk and watch it slowly tilt over only to have it touch a standing tree and be launched, twirling, into the air. You can only stand and laugh and watch as it leaves your clearing.
You can also toss your tools into the air — they automatically replenish at your side, sort of like you have two holsters — and watch them twirl through the forest. It's entertaining to throw away an ax and half a minute later hear a tree fall somewhere far off. It's also quite hilarious to see trees falling behind the target range as you practice your ax-throwing skills.
What is there to do in the woods?
Forestry is all about chopping trees, listening to retro music, and enjoying the sights. There is no storyline whatsoever, and many people who like some action will probably find the game to be boring after a short time. It's sort of like if Minecraft only let you chop down trees and didn't have any crafting or creepers.
That's not to say you can't enjoy yourself in the forest. The world created here is beautiful. The simple artwork and pastel colors, combined with chirping birds and great shading, creates an atmosphere that has a certain calmness to it that is an enjoyable escape. If you follow the path through the huge forest, you'll come across a few surprises that I won't ruin for you here. There are also a couple of surprises to be found off the beaten path.
There is almost no learning curve, making Forestry a great title to introduce people to VR. They can get the teleportation mechanics down and can experience what room-scale, motion-controller VR is all about in a non-threatening environment. They can be free to do what they want, and the next player can reset the world to start all over. No, there isn't a way to save your game between sessions; any progress will be erased when you close the game. This might not sit well with a lot of people, but I feel it keeps the game from losing its initial charm.
The environment developer Decoder created here is one I'd like to spend more time in. It's sort of refreshing to jump in and not have an objective or timers or enemies, but I wish there were more features — crafting, digging, wildlife — to keep me coming back. Even if you don't particularly enjoy the inability to save your progress or the lack of a storyline, it is a great game to use to introduce newcomers to VR. Considering the $5 price tag Forestry is sporting, it's hard not to recommend at least giving it a try.
- Peaceful environment
- Charming art design and pastel colors
- Can't beat the price
- Lack of storyline will turn some away
- No crafting
- Some wood pieces turn into shells
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