Forest Grove – In grove danger

Holo deckhand

Uncover a family’s secrets to find a lost child in Forest Grove.

You may remember a little game called Gone Home that arguably popularised the “walking simulator” genre. Exploring the house, you had feelings that something terrible had happened thanks to an unsettling atmosphere along with gradually discovered narrative pieces, ultimately discovering a twist that’s still talked about today. Forest Grove aims for similar elements to this, with you investigating the disappearance of Zooey, the teen daughter of a tech billionaire who was due to inherit the business. Unfortunately, the game does little to build a sense of intrigue, with the plot playing everything so straight that you’ll predict the outcome fairly quickly but still have to jump through hoops to reach it.

The setup is at least interesting, with you playing an unnamed investigator entering a digital recreation of the family home. An AI has analysed the house itself and recreated what it’s discovered for you to go in and explore without needing to visit the location itself, potentially contaminating evidence. The AI can also analyse your findings, making links between objects and who has come into contact with them without the need to have them sent away for study. There are some really interesting possibilities for narrative here, such as the AI making mistakes in the recreation leading to potentially unreliable data, but instead, it’s just the house with stuff in it. There’s even the absurd issue of the AI being able to instantly recreate hidden rooms perfectly that it couldn’t possibly know about. The recreation even knows where Zooey is, making most of the investigation pretty much pointless. When you start applying any thought to this, the whole AI angle makes no sense, and Forest Grove would have made more sense with you simply visiting the house in reality.

Forest Grove
I liked how the digital version of the house is recreated in what is essentially a Star Trek holodeck.

Gameplay-wise, you spend most of your time walking around the house and looking at objects you find. A little mini-game has you analyse points of interest on sponges, kitchen knives, clothing, and such, and the AI will link together people’s DNA allowing you to make links between things. You’ll need to solve the odd puzzle here and there to allow you access to people’s computers, unlock safes, and open hidden rooms. These are nice enough, and there tend to be hints that help you find passwords and codes without too much difficulty. There was an odd instance of one of the puzzles already being solved when I tried to solve it, but for the most part, it felt nice when I worked one of them out.

Your ultimate goal is to find Zooey and identify those who are responsible for her disappearance. Finding the items in the house provides physical and digital evidence for this, but you can’t actually make an accusation through these alone. You have a drone with you that can recreate conversations between characters, and finding all these is how you unlock the ability to accuse someone. Interestingly, this means you could accuse someone of something with next to no evidence if you find all the conversations straight away, leading to an ending where a culprit gets away with whatever they’ve done. You need to combine characters, crimes, and evidence you’ve found to get the best ending, which you even receive a grade for. 

This accusation stage makes up the last few minutes of the game, but is certainly the most enjoyable part, as you piece everything together yourself. All the wandering around, clicking on every little object in the hopes it’s important, and trying to line up images to trigger conversations are kind of a drag compared to actually putting the puzzle together. It’s a shame it’s such a brief part. Perhaps this is trying to be a realistic depiction of forensic investigation. 98% trawling through tedious stuff, 2% interest.

A big part of progressing the plot is through recreating conversations. You do this by lining up different sets of of images with a drone.

There’s a cast of characters that you’ll hear conversations of as well as reading their messages, and most of them are kind of stereotypes. Zooey comes across as being the rich kid who just wants to live a normal life. Her dad is a loving parent who’s away a lot, leaving Zooey with her stepmother who might just be in the relationship for the money. There’s the standard wrong-side-of-the-tracks-but-caring boyfriend and quirky best friend, along with a possibly conniving business partner. Everything feels like a trope sadly, meaning the characters didn’t feel believable or relatable, and what’s going on can be spotted a mile off. It doesn’t help that the voice-acting is a bit hit-and-miss too. A couple of characters are fairly well done, but most of the cast’s lines feel forced and unnatural. Dialogue comes across better in text exchanges at least, so some of the reams of messages you’ll read through are a bit more engaging.

The visuals in the house are fine enough, but certainly nothing to write home about. Character models are quite poor by modern standards, but you’ll only really see them in the occasional photo you find, so it doesn’t intrude too much. The house itself feels like a believable residence at least, with a layout that makes at least some sense, although it is a little awkward to navigate initially, thanks to how dark it is. Quite why the AI didn’t recreate the house with the lights on is inexplicable. The sound isn’t great either, with little ambient noise and a soundtrack that feels all over the place in tone. The little piano puzzle sounded nice though.

Forest Grove
The house itself does seem to have had some effort put into its design.

Forest Grove is a hard game to recommend. The story is well-trodden, the characters aren’t great, and the gameplay is mostly walking around and clicking on objects, with at least a neat puzzle element at the end. The idea of an AI recreating crime scenes that could be flawed feels like a much more interesting path to explore, so maybe if developer Miga Games goes on to make something else, that could be a tale to tell.

Forest Grove is available now on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation.

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