If you go down to the woods today, you better be prepared to run. The bears are having their picnic, but every scotch egg, cocktail sausage, and quiche topping is being made from you, I'm afraid. On my first playthrough of Among Trees, I lasted a mere two days in the game's beautiful wilderness. During a gentle stroll through the forest looking for twigs and berries, I was spotted by a bear. It didn't take more than a couple of seconds for said bear to not only see me, but also close the substantial gap between us as I attempted to hoof it in the opposite direction. Bleeding, came the alert from the game, and as I sped back to my home desperately trying to figure out how exactly to stem the bleeding, I watched the life ebb from my body with every step. Day two didn't end, but I did.
Don't let Among Trees' stunning rural world fool you. Behind the glorious palette of pastel rainbows, silhouetted trees, cute bunnies, and fluttering birdlife, this is a harsh survival game where you're constantly balancing your hunger and energy, your body temperature and health in order to make it through another day.
That's very easy to forget when you're just watching the sunrise in Among Trees though, or generally just making your way through the world looking for various materials. The team at FJRD Interactive have made this a landscape to enjoy getting lost in - as long as you avoid the bears. The ground at your feet hums in blue hues against the progressing pastels skies. A copse of larch trees pops into view as I emerge through a rocky archway with such a golden glow that I find myself hammering the screenshot button to capture the moment. I've lost count of the times I've stopped to watch rabbits nibble the grasses at my feet for a full minute before scampering into the undergrowth. Dense forests give way to glittering caves harboring secrets (and not always bears), and gentle rivers lead to crashing waterfalls to navigate around as you explore.
It might not be a world absolutely teeming with life, but it's constantly alive, and it's beauty never ceases to make you pause a second or two to take it all in, listening to the gentle tracks that bubble away in the background.
Bears or barely sustained
You may not know why you've found yourself in this place, with little more than a backpack to your name, but at least you know what you've got to do here. Survive. Your first task is to set up a home. Each playthrough starts with presenting you with a cluster of planks and other building materials that could eventually be a shack if you gather enough additional stuff to turn it into a home. Fir planks and twigs are your initial collection concerns, but as you build your home, that will extend to more complicated and harder to find resources, including the likes of steel wire, bolts, nails and other man-made items.
Among Trees makes building your home the focus. Once you've got your basic abode up and running where you can sleep, save and store a small selection of goods, you'll work on various expansion projects. Initially, it's a crafting room, a cooking room, or a storage loft, but then those will continue to greenhouses or sewing rooms. Your home becomes a hub for everything that you'll need to do and make to stay alive. Currently, I'm boasting a Day 12 existence record, having successfully evaded two bears, with a couple more resources standing between me and a snazzy new greenhouse where I can finally plant the beet seeds I've been harbouring since Day One.
Among Trees does well at staggering what you have to manage without a single tutorial. Initially, you're just a gatherer, discovering what lies on the ground in this world that could be useful in making your hut a home. But within a few days, you'll have an axe to chop down trees and break the strange wooden boxes that regenerate each day, or a lockpick to break into chests left behind by someone that came before. Being able to craft a map becomes a lifeline, where little former settlements are marked down after you've discovered the pylon-like structures that are always found nearby them.
You'll find blueprints hidden in various places that will let you craft more tools, or map hints that will point you towards even useful resources. Even the bears can be helpful, as they usually patrol near unusual, or rare, resources, you've just got to stealth your way by them until you're ready to take them on - which feels like a long way off my axe and lockpick combo.
There's so much to discover, but it's all done slowly, gradually, by the light of the day before scuttling back to your sanctuary at night to make strange concoctions of mushroom and beetroot stews, sleep and plan for the next day. And you'll want to keep doing it over, and over, again because Among Trees is just that beautiful.
Among Trees is available on the Epic Store now.