Before I start this proper it’s worth noting that Green Hell is in Early Access on Steam currently, each publication is going to decide whether that denotes a game getting a review or a preview but I personally fall under the logic of if a game can accept money from players then it deserves to be reviewed. As such a disclaimer up front that this review is based on the launch product of the game from the 29th of August 2018.
Most people’s experience with a survival game would have started with Minecraft a decade ago. Green Hell’s starting cycle is no different. In first person you are tasked with surviving as long as possible in the Amazon with nothing to your name apart from a watch that is so advanced it’ll tell you oddly intimate details about your body like your hydration, protein, fat levels and requirements. Much like Minecraft step one is finding a spot you like and/or feel safe in and then finding stone and wood to start making tools to gather more materials, like more wood from the axe you’ve just made and then progressing down an inventory flow chart. This is where we hit the first issue with this launch build of Green Hell, the game doesn’t tell you recipes. Trial and error are your friends here but they’re the kind of friends you’re only really still connecting with on social media out of obligation and the knowledge that without you they’d probably turn into psychopaths.
The game actually starts with a story tutorial. You’re in the Amazon with Mia, your lady friend, and she’s giving you the basics of survival in the forest. After a few days she goes off to act like a voyeur and ingratiate herself with the local tribes. Weeks later you’re awoken by a walkie talkie transmission and it turns out the tribe turned on Mia and you need to save her; here’s where the story ends and you’re dumped into a new world and tasked with surviving. And surviving is hard.
The game doesn’t hold your hand in anyway. From a gameplay perspective you are spinning a dozen plates at once, finding clean water is your first challenge. Drinking stream or pond water will lead to infections that causes various types of vomit to leave your body. It took about 5 deaths for me to find a video online that says you can leave coconut shells on the floor to collect rain water, the game at no point explained this. Now I had water sorted for future runs I needed food. Fruit was a good start but didn’t give me the fat I needed, I had to hunt. Once I built an axe and realised that wasn’t doing much against the local capybaras I guessed how to make a spear, this upped my hunting game and I was carving fresh meat off animals, unfortunately I didn’t need to eat at this point so by the time I built a fire and decided to set up camp the meat, and all the fruit I was carrying, had gone bad and all I could get from them was food poisoning or maggots. Next death I decided water and then a camp were the priorities so I had somewhere to bring food to. This worked great for one night but on night two when returning to my home in the rain forest I found some local tribesmen had decided they liked my little hovel and just took it over. When I kindly asked them to leave by swinging my axe they jumped me and that was my death count in the double digits.
So once you’ve kind of got the hang of all that then the game is easy right? Well no, it’s at this point I have to admit I’ve missed out a key aspect of this game, the constant need to check your body. By going into your radial menu you can check your limbs and find out how many leaches, snake bites, bee stings, scorpion stings, cuts, grazes, wounds and any number of other ailments that have befallen you on your adventure. Most can be sorted by finding a particular leaf and crafting it into a bandage, others like the leach you just move your cursor and yank the bugger off and some you’ll need a special tool like the bone needle to remove worms. But don’t ask where you get the needle, instead the game will just keep telling you that you must find or craft one with no recipe. And this is one of the biggest issues with the game, there is zero hand holding, which is fine if you’re going for immersion, this player has ended up in an unknown environment, but that being said, I know that I could craft together a rain catcher with some logs, rope and palm leaves in real life, but in the game I have to find one at a random logging camp to learn the recipe. When death is so common it becomes impossible to keep up, your game is fresh each time so you must re-find the useful items to learn their recipes for your notebook.
The final obstacle is a fascinating addition to the genre, your sanity. Being alone in the rain forest is going to mess with you, but eating healthily and sleeping will keep your brain going and stable. But with each tiny mistake your sanity drops, and when it reaches a certain point you’ll swear you heard a noise off to your left, but there’s nothing there, then you’ll think you heard voices, speaking in English, but no one is around. Finally you’ll hear yourself trash talking in a wonderful anti motivational talk like you’re standing in front of a bathroom mirror very drunk and feeling sorry for yourself. Sanity can drop for many reasons but personally I find the most effective is the random leaches that decide to subtract 2 sanity every minute they’re hitching a ride on you, which adds up, and to be blunt breaks flow as you’re having to rotate each limb to find the culprit. Once you intentionally or unintentionally get to peak insanity the real chaos begins. Tribesmen appear everywhere and start attacking you. Once you’ve started attacking them, I recommend the stone spear, you’ll find they die in one hit and were infact a figment of your imagination, a figment that can kill you easily. Eat well and you’ll get your sanity back but to be honest at that point you may as well reload the game.
Visually the game has moments of beauty but with some pretty hefty frame drops you’ll need to be prepared for a not fully optimised game yet. The biggest annoyance is the audio. Voice acting is fine and the stereo sound works great from pinning tribesmen’s chanting down but outside of that I have to hope the first big patch for this game fixes the audio balancing. Parrots will really annoy you, Waterfalls will deafen you even with volume turned down, but the absolute worst experience in this game comes from having to be within 100m of a bees nest. They have no chill. Audio isn’t effected by distance so if you’re within 100m in any direction you will have full volume bees buzzing in your ears with no break. I’ve turned around 180 degrees as soon as I hear the bees now, not because of my crippling real world phobia of bees and wasps but instead that noise is reducing my real world sanity down to a level I worry I can’t come back from.
Early Access is all about showing the potential of a product, and Green Hell has potential. It’s quite similar to other survival games like The Forest but it does enough to distance itself in game, both in location but also tone and style. Green Hell needs a lot of polish and they need to assess whether they’re making a game that’s supposed to be played or feared because right now it’s hard to say the game was fun for the first few hours. After the tutorial when I had no clue how to do anything, tool tips would have helped, an improved notebook would have been better, and dear god please give the players some recipes. There’s clearly greatness bubbling under the surface here, the game shows a real potential to be something that’s awesomely fun and something that could get the viral success of many other survival horror games, it just needs a little rounding off at the edges and a bit of a spruce and it’ll be there. With good updates and a rejig of the early game I would have no qualms recommending this experience to anyone, especially if they like to be eaten by jaguars all the time.