A good story always starts with a strong hook. No matter if it’s a book, a movie, or a video game, a strong hook ensures that the audience remains invested in the immediate story long enough to allow them to get emotionally attached to the whole story. From the epic beginning of the Lion King to the first few scenes of LOST, a good opening should give the audience something that they can always remember throughout the rest of the story.
Some story hooks function differently than others. The Lion King’s, for example, was to establish the sweeping vastness of the land of Africa, and was Disney’s way of letting the audience know, “Hey, you’ve never seen an animated feature film like this before.” The Lion King’s opener basically raised the bar for the rest of the movie. LOST’s opening scene was meant to be shocking and to ensure that the audience never forgets the horrible day that the show began on. I didn’t even have to watch the whole clip that I linked to remember the blaring screams of the jet engine, or the scene where the guy gets sucked into it. There was a mixture of fear and shock value in those opening scenes, and it worked excellently.
Last night, as I booted up The Forest for my first experience with the game, I found myself a witness to one such gripping opener. The plane I was on (predictably) crashed and my character blacks out for a moment. Then as the character regains consciousness, you look up and see a near-naked tribesman-looking guy towering over a small child. The man-thing scoops up the unconscious child and carries him out of the wreckage of the plane, in a way that feels more sacrificial than life-saving. You then pass out once more.
As you come to, you find yourself alone amongst bodies and airplane wreckage. Your mind soon turns to survival as you scavenge for the supplies that you need to keep yourself from starving and freezing to death.
The game tricks you into forgetting about the true threat.
Game of Thrones (the show) tricks you in a very similar way. The first episode begins with a trio of rangers from the Night’s Watch, out patrolling beyond The Wall. While hunting for Wildlings they come across the fabled White Walkers who promptly kill two-thirds of the group and let the third escape. The show then pumps the opening credits, and we get to spend the next two seasons watching the leading families of Westeros plot to kill one another. It isn’t until a full two seasons have passed that we get another true look at the White Walker threat (not really counting Jon’s two isolated encounters with White Walkers at Craster’s Keep and within the Wall).
I don’t think there was a Game of Thrones fan who didn’t think, “Oh shit,” as that season 2 finale played out.
In The Forest, my “Oh shit,” moment was about thirty minutes into my gameplay experience. I had really just forgotten the jungle-beast-man-thing was even around until I found a small camp in the middle of the forest. I was looting the camps for supplies when I realized those weren’t rabbits hanging on the meat racks, they were human hands; that wasn’t a totem in the middle of the camp, those were human bodies propped up and promptly skewered together. “Oh shit,” I said. “They’re cannibals.”
The realization hit me as I surveyed the camp, suddenly aware of how abandoned it was when it clearly had occupants. They could be anywhere, out there, in the forest, watching me.
I couldn’t help shake the feeling throughout the rest of my gameplay time. The feeling like I was being watched. A feeling that only DayZ gave me because there probably were other people watching me without me knowing.
But The Forest accomplished this without using anyone at all. No one is really watching me…just the game. A truly one-of-a-kind experience.
The Forest is currently available for $14.99 on Steam Early Access. The developer provided Epic Brew with a review copy.