Reviews by Wade Clarke
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Keen followers of The Forest House saga would have been pretty happy with the ending of part two, and probably at least mildly curious to see what would happen in part three. The answer is: you get half a game which is potentially the best in the series, followed by half a game which is easily the worst.
Basically the third episode seems too ambitious for anyone to be able to bring off properly in just three hours of programming, the competition limitation which defines all three games. So the further you play, the worse the programming gets, until the building is practically falling down around you.
The kid from episode one is now grown and married, "With a gorgeous wife to your left and beautiful son to your right" as the game says. But this is a Forest House game, so it's not long before people need to start getting on down to The Forest House to progress the plot.
This game features an animated NPC, a first for the series. It's your wife, and she dutifully follows you around, guides you in the right direction and offers some advice. This is a very cool start to the game, and the conversations actually clear up some of the family relations that have popped up in the earlier games.
Unfortunately things go downhill once you get into the supernatural half of the adventure. First, a bunch of room descriptions vanish. This is clearly a bug, even though there are other weird room shenanigans going on, including is a semi-endless stairway, again inspired by Silent Hill. Second: (Spoiler - click to show)The fight with The Beast demonstrates more new programming, but feels silly. And finally the game just crumbles into programming hell. Its responses become erratic and inconsistent, things disappear or don't disappear which shouldn't or should respectively. (Spoiler - click to show)The end is supposed to present a few choices but I could only interact with one of them; the others seemed broken or bizarre. If you can make it to the finale, it offers a bunch of fairly crazy exposition.
Over the course of three Forest House games, the author demonstrated a growing range of abilities. It's probably time for him to string them all together in a game not ensmallened or bugged-up by a three-hour programming time limit. That limit hurt this third game in the series the most.
The child who was a child in the original The Forest House is now a teenager, and he (you) is dropped immediately into the eponymous house and confronted with monster and spook-shaped danger.
This game has little nods to Resident Evil (a shotgun on hooks on the wall) and Silent Hill (alternate realities with consequences for real realities) and considering the game's small size, it packs in quite the bite-sized adventure. It's probably the best designed and best to play of the three Forest Houses, in spite of being written in three hours and also subject to the OddComp 2008 restrictions on the number of allowable rooms, objects, tasks, events, and characters... (Spoiler - click to show)In this game's case, 7, 9, 11, 5 and 3 respectively.
These restrictions manifest primarily in the extreme lack of look-at descriptions for objects. You still can't get away with looking at nothing though, as there are a few objects which must be examined to enable progress.
The score system seems bizarre at first glance, being broken up into blobs of 17 points, but again this makes sense when you remember the game's comp bias towards odd numbers. One character is completely inscrutable, and though (Spoiler - click to show)the game has a couple of endings, trying to work out how to get whichever one you didn't get the first time may prove to be a hair-pulling experience. The inbuilt hints work well at all other times.
A higher-tech revision of this game would be welcome (though it might end up breaking the odd number patterns that determined most of its design), but instead what comes next is For3st House: Sacrifice, the most ambitious and craziest -- but also the most half-undernourished (?!) -- Forest House to date.
There aren't a ton of text adventure game series around, let alone series in which each episode deals with the same setting and characters over time. "The Forest House" and its two sequels can make these claims, and what's cool is that they were written over two years (2007-2008) as entries in Ectocomp and The Odd Competition. Furthermore, each game was written in the space of three hours, with all this entails; smallness in the first place, and bare bones programming and bugginess in the second.
If you find low production values or the idea of more simple games intolerable, you should probably drive away now. On the other hand, if you're the kind of person who might be fascinated by the prospect of watching one fantasy/horror story being built up in three quick steps, the first being the author's first game, the third already demonstrating leaps of ambition (probably unmatched by execution… it was still written in three hours) then you may also be a bit charmed by the Forest House saga.
In the first game, The Forest House, you play a young boy who wants to sneak out into the forest at night to explore a house which no-one else can see, not waking your sister or parents in the process. The game presents just a handful of puzzles and evokes a decent atmosphere of childhood excitement.
This very short debut is ultimately the most technically polished of the three games, since it was given a revision makeover by its author after the original Ectocomp. Neither of the sequels have received similar treatment at this time of writing, and it is very important to point out that version 1 of the original The Forest House should be avoided -- bugs make it not-completeable, plus there are numerous other errors and missing descriptions. Version 2 (available from the ADRIFT website) is the one to play.
On its own, this game presents as an unspectacular but neat debut. It becomes more interesting when viewed as the first part of a story. Sequel "Return to the Forest House" offers more action and features the same protagonist, now five years older.
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