Being a cyberpunk gang member, covert ops agent, or adrenaline junkie is all well and good, but what of the rank-and-file? What about the people who are tasked with solving crimes not by shaking down criminals for information, but simply by processing crime scenes, examining evidence, and reaching a logical, sensible conclusion? That's exactly what new sci-fi detective adventure Forest Grove is asking. You play as a detective in the not-so-distant future, and it's your role to discover what happened to the missing Zooey Kunstimatigaard. I sat down with a preview build of the game to see how this intriguing mystery game is shaping up.
Forest Grove Has Solid Detective Mechanics
Between this, Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One, and Return of the Obra Dinn, it seems like detective games might finally be figuring out how to cast their players as real, actual detectives. Forest Grove is, at its heart, a hybrid of point-and-click puzzle solving and on-the-ground detective work. Forest Grove lets you loose on a full reconstruction of the Kunstimatigaard household, showing you exactly how everything was when Zooey disappeared. To get to the bottom of her disappearance, you can examine evidence both physical and digital, play back key conversations to look for clues, and listen to audio recordings reconstructed for you by your helpful AI assistant.
Luckily, this isn't just a walking simulator disguised as a detective game. You'll actually need to pay attention to the clues you find. Right from the introductory office tutorial puzzle, Forest Grove displays an admirable commitment to letting you figure things out for yourself. Only by examining everything in your environment and putting two and two together will you reach a solution, and that investigative dedication continued throughout the preview build I played. Every time I hit a roadblock, it was because I hadn't paid sufficient attention to my surroundings, not because the game was being abstruse.
The point-and-click puzzles, too, are logical and never in the LucasArts moon logic vein. Usually, the solutions are hinted at by the puzzles themselves, but if they're not, you'll often realize where you should be looking by reading or listening to other information you've been given. One safe combination told me to "remember Bandon Beach", which turned out to be an environmental clue. There's nothing here that feels too "eureka"; most of the puzzles are relatively simple to solve. Still, there's a thrill in figuring things out organically and being rewarded with a new piece of this puzzle. Forest Grove's core gameplay loop is solid, and I was sad to leave the house when the preview ended.
Apparently, Forest Grove Is Located In The Uncanny Valley
Unfortunately, although the detective mechanics are robust, Forest Grove can't quite match them with its characters. To put it simply, the character art and models here are of extremely variable quality. Some of the 3D models look passably human, while others are terrifying, unblinking monstrosities that look like aliens wearing human faces. This problem makes it difficult to get fully immersed in Zooey's story. During one particularly harrowing flashback sequence, Zooey is supposed to look traumatized, but the facial expression she's pulling looks like someone yanking Mario's face in Super Mario 64. It's unintentionally hilarious, and it detracts from the seriousness of the story.
Another issue is the voice acting, which is generally weak across the board. Characters never feel like they're having real conversations with one another. There's a "canned" quality to the lines; it always sounds like voice actors reciting dialogue in a clunky, lifeless manner, never like two actors actually talking to one another and feeling real emotions. Combined with the often troubling character art, this gives a problematic feeling to the narrative as a whole. While the central mystery is certainly intriguing, it's hard to care too much about the characters when they sometimes just don't feel like real human beings.
It's a shame because there are some fun, clever flourishes in the dialogue and setup. As you're reconstructing Forest Grove's crime scene, there's a document next to your computer reminding you that using AI to reconstruct a crime scene is expressly forbidden. Your AI assistant adds a sardonic note to the effect of "as it says, doing this is completely forbidden", but it doesn't stop you from doing it anyway. That's solid world-building, and it helps to give an illicit edge to what we're doing, albeit one that sometimes sits at odds with the intrusive nature of how we're essentially breaking into these characters' lives and seeing their most intimate moments. Luckily, Forest Grove never crosses the line into creepy town (unless it's with that startling character art).
Forest Grove Is Home To Many Bugs
Right now, the preview build of Forest Grove is buggy, to say the least. I ran into occasional graphical and audio glitches, but those weren't severe. One particularly nasty bug threw up a black screen every time I tried to load a save, which forced me to start afresh. After doing so, my second save seemed to load without incident, but it's not a good look if save files randomly fail to work for no discernible reason. There are also instances of images seemingly displaying incorrectly over HUD elements, which is annoying for immersion, but not particularly game-breaking.
If there is a place where Forest Grove gets scuppered, it's in the technicals. The ambition on display is clear; the Kunstimatigaard house is essentially a detective sandbox in which you're free to explore wherever you like (although some areas will require keys, and some of the doors were closed off in the preview build). That's admirable in and of itself, and the dizzying sense of freedom, combined with the way in which the detective mechanics actually feel rewarding, is just about enough to compensate for Forest Grove's flaws.
Despite these issues, all in all, Forest Grove is shaping up to be an extremely promising proposition. The game needs to work out some of its character kinks; the voice acting simply isn't up to scratch, and the character art is just a little too uncanny for the characters to feel sympathetic. That said, the detective gameplay and exploration are excellent, and I'm excited to see what Miga Games manages to achieve with a little more polish. Even if the art and voice acting remains in place, Forest Grove should be more than enough for detective enthusiasts to sink their teeth into.
TechRaptor previewed Forest Grove on PC via Steam using a code provided by the developer. The game is set to release sometime this year.