Green Hell Review: A Thinking Man's Survival Sim
Survival sims have a tendency to be hard. It’s in their very nature. However, finding the right balance between difficulty and enjoyability is where the true challenge lies. Tipping the scale too far either way can lead to an uneven experience.
While Green Hell may at first seem to lean too heavily toward its more difficult sensibilities, especially in its opening hours, you'll find an experience not only ultimately well balanced but entirely engrossing.
Green Hell Review: A Thinking Man's Survival Sim
As someone who has played other survival games in Ark and Rust, games that don't lean heavily on narrative, I immediately noticed Green Hell's story. You’ll not just find yourself half-naked on a beach here.
Instead, you are one of a young couple arriving in a non-descript tropical locale with the aim of making contact with an indigenous tribe. The story sprinkles in various reasons to be intrigued, from a vague history with the tribe to the grandiose point in your expedition. However, the crux of its narrative threads lies in the disappearance of your wife Mia, your narratively convenient memory loss, and your survival struggle as you wind up lost in the titular Green Hell.
It may seem overly cliché, and it doesn't do anything too riveting, but its inclusion gives purpose to your time in the deadly jungle, pushing you to forge on for more than the sake of exploration.
However, if you are playing Green Hell purely for the survival experience, then survival mode can be picked over the story mode, both playable in solo and co-op. Regardless of the mode you choose at the start, as you head out into the dense, sweaty jungle, the real fun begins.
Keeping track of your carbohydrates, fats, protein, and hydration are all done with the use of a handy GPS watch. However, learning how to collect freshwater, boost carbs, or keeping track of which animals provide the best sustenance will have you digging through your notebook in search of information. This investigative streak increases tenfold as you start to consider the effects of parasites and worms.
All of Green Hell’s dangerous inclusions can be the death of you. There are many times when even eating food with dirty hands causes serious issues or a desperate drink of water from a dirty river results in some adverse effect. Yet while watching your health and stamina bar steadily deplete isn’t exactly fun, trying to figure out how to counter these debilitating factors is.
And Green Hell doesn’t punish you for going in with little genre experience. Yes, you may find yourself searching for various “how-to” videos as you play, but unlike some other titles in the genre, all of the most basic information you need is either at your disposal or ready to find.
Trying out a weird-looking mushroom “for science” is a risk-reward scenario. You may start vomiting violently until falling face down in the mud, but you also discover all the effects of that mushroom, which are then logged in the notebook.
Beyond the parasitic, Green Hell redefines self-care in survival games with bodily injuries. You’ll spend a lot of your time scanning your limbs via examination mechanics for leeches, worms, snake bites, rashes, and scrapes. Simply ignoring your issues will only cause further pain.
Unattended scrapes cause infections, bites from venomous animals eat away at your health, and worms chip away at your sanity – literally. To combat these ailments, you'll spend a lot of time exploring and gathering plants for salves and antidotes.
Green Hell’s environments not only look good but are also so seamlessly blended that those important plants don’t stick out as items that are just waiting to be interacted with. Instead, you’ll have to genuinely search for them, but when you do find them, you'll feel a genuine sense of relief wash over you.
Along the way, you'll interact with a diverse taxonomy of animals, some harmless, others deadly. You’ll quickly learn to scurry away at the site of a poisonous frog as it merrily hops towards you, or you'll feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck at the rattle of a nearby snake. Alone, they're scary enough, but as each of your physical ailments become very real problems, these interactions can become terrifying.
On top of all that is the aforementioned sanity mechanic. Leeches, bad sleep, or weird unidentified fruits can all slowly wear down your sanity. As you descend into madness, you’ll begin to hear voices and eventually start to hallucinate. If the depleting health bars and dwindling stamina meter weren’t enough to encourage self-care, the sanity meter definitely will, as those haunting voices will send shivers down your spine.
However, what may drive you even madder – in the best kind of ways – is Green Hell's map design. It's perhaps one of the most well-realized and immersive environments in the genre. The dense jungle is incredibly easy to get lost in, so you’ll need to keep your bearings with the use of maps, compasses, and distinct environmental features.
With a lack of icons typically used to show players their current position on the map, I quite often found myself using the map and compass to piece together the direction of my camp. Nothing encompassed the delirious conditions of traversal more than the time I came across a carcass, only to realize I had already passed it and was going in circles.
Similarly, after chasing an annoyingly fast armadillo, I found myself all turned around. Despite being just a few minutes from my camp, I had no idea which direction to go. After some hopeless wandering, however, I came across a river, remembering that my camp too was based by the river. So, I followed it to eventually stumble my way back home.
This natural form of map design is a delight to traverse, and Green Hell still remains one of the few games where I figured out where to go both naturally and through intuition, rather than being told by over-bearing pings and highlighted tracks.
Green Hell Review – The Bottom Line
- Fun and dense survival systems
- Accessible information via notebook
- Story aids the experience
- Gorgeous, logically developed environments
- Systems can be intimidating and a little overwhelming at times
Combining the environmental realism with unforgiving yet eventually approachable survival mechanics makes Green Hell an incredibly immersive experience. There were times when the constantly depleting health and stamina bars urged me to restart a save, but perseverance felt as integral to the experience as the mechanics causing my pain.
The inclusion of a story may not be for everyone, but having a reason to explore the game's dense environments kept me far more engaged than simply building a nice-looking hut. With a creepy vibe aided by its sanity mechanics and intimidating enemies, and survival mechanics that make you think, Green Hell didn’t turn out so hellish after all.
[Note: Creepy Jar provided the copy of Green Hell used for this review.]