Over the last couple of years I’ve been watching the development of Creepy Jar’s real life influenced survival game as it’s moved through its Early Access phase, fleshed out its story and co-op options, and moved to full release. It’s looked like an impressive almost-sim, with the twist that it encompasses a fully fledged story, yet I’ve had the barrier of a lack of decent PC to run it. That barrier has been chopped away like a machete hacking at vines with the release of the PS4 and Xbox One versions, and now I can explore the promise of a unique open world that demands constant attention as it draws on actual tropical survival techniques. Given our experience with a real life Survival School, would I be able to overcome the obstacles and dangers of the jungle? Could I navigate through the world and solve its mysteries? Most importantly, was I able to escape the Green Hell with all my limbs intact?
Jake Higgins and his wife Mia are returning to the rainforest to reconnect with a tribe they’d visited years before. Jake wrote a book about them after they spent time living with the Amazonians, and they want to go back to find out more, though the reason for the trip seems a bit vague, and slightly sinister. Mia is the one that’ll be integrating with the Yabahuaca and communicating with Jake via walkie talkie as she slowly regains their trust, whilst he remains at base camp studying the local flora. One night Jake’s roused from sleep with Mia begging him to come and get her, and in a panic he hurtles through the jungle to her aid. Something goes wrong though and Jake ends up fleeing the village and falling off a cliff, lost in the rainforest. With no memory of what’s happened, no supplies except his empty backpack and solar powered radio, and no clue where he is, he’s got to find a way to survive before he can even think about finding his way out. The jungle is brutal, water and food are scarce, and all manner of creepy crawlies and predators lurk in the shadows waiting to strike. There’s a reason it’s called the Green Hell.
There is a great story driving you forward in Green Hell, yet this is a vicious survival game at its core. It doesn’t make you to do everything like you would in reality – we need to suspend some disbelief – but it’s good enough that you get a sense of progressive steps in crafting and building. There are very few shortcuts to take, if Jake doesn’t know how to build something, neither do you. Finding structures and items in the world will open up the possibilities, and they are logical, just don’t think you’ll be MacGuyvering your way out of the jungle when you first wake up. The number one priority is finding or collecting water. You’ll start to think “we’re in a rainforest, how tricky can that be?”, and it’s not… there’s water all over the place. Is it safe to drink though? Hell, no! The simple act of drinking from a stream will introduce you to the injury mechanics of the game, and you’ll get infected with intestinal parasites. Left untreated they’ll reduce your health steadily and affect the intake of other food. It’s not the only thing in the water though, if you’ve been really unlucky you’ll have scores of leeches trying to exsanguinate you.
For internal issues there are indicators above the health bar to rely on, for external damage you’ll need to physically inspect each limb and work out what’s wrong. Leeches are easily picked up in streams, and equally easy to remove as long as you check thoroughly. Cuts and abrasions can be treated with local plant leaves, as long as they’re the right ones, as can rashes. Infections need the right flower or fungi to counteract their effects. Some ailments also need rest, like fever, so bedding down can be just as effective, only beware of where you lay your head. If a nap on the jungle floor sounds tempting then go right ahead, you’ll only have to deal with the burrowing worms that get under your skin and steadily drive you mad. These little beasties are possibly the worst thing that can happen because they need a specific treatment (sharpened bones) and they affect your sanity meter the most. As your mental health deteriorates Jake starts to hear voices and noises, and let it get low enough and he’ll be attacked by imaginary tribesmen. As if just getting enough to drink wasn’t difficult enough.
Manage to avoid getting hit by any of these problems and there’s still hunger, exhaustion, insomnia, food poisoning, snakes and spiders, stalking predators, and the Yabahuaca themselves. Green Hell does not want Jake to live. There is at least some help in the form of Jake’s watch and the maps he picks up whilst exploring. His GPS enabled smartwatch also monitors his vitals and advises which type of sustenance is needed the most. Fats, carbs, protein and hydration all have their own gauges and letting any dip to zero will have severe consequences. Food is the one thing that’s fairly abundant as Jake’s willing to eat just about anything, and because camp fires are easy to build because of the abundance of wood, it’s always barbeque time. Getting the balance right for maintaining the water intake and the different types of foods is tricky, so at least Green Hell is consistent in keeping the same plants and animals across the whole of the map. Learn what is friendly, learn what is deadly, keep moving incrementally forward, and try not to die. That’s the secret of success as crashing blindly ahead will give Jake zero chance of survival.
With a significant portion of rainforest to explore there are multiple ways to deal with the survival elements. Walk a distance and build a small camp to create a save point is one, effectively working on a trial and error approach with progress regularly saved. Another way is to just go nuts and build yourself a full village so that there’s a way of stacking up resources for the journey ahead. Then there’s the option of going rogue and using abandoned camps to keep yourself sustained, though that’s very risky as failure is punishing. Did I mention there’s permadeath? However, Creepy Jar are well aware that hardcore surviving isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and there’s a really good suite of customisation options so you can tailor the challenge. Sanity, permadeath, predators and nutrient drains can all be toggled, and there’s a Tourist mode that will let you experience just the story. It’s a nice touch that will either let you bypass the really sticky parts, or help you steadily build up your knowledge and skills. It’s worth considering as well because even heading into the jungle on the standard difficulty can result in a game over screen in less than 5 minutes for the unwary.
One thing you’re guaranteed on each visit is lush visuals and a truly impressive recreation of the rainforest. It’s so dense with trees and plants it’s tough at times to see where you’re going. With tonnes of wildlife scuttling around, persistent showers and seriously dark nights, it evokes an atmosphere rarely achievable in an open world. The Amazon manages to pull you into its daily cycle as you incorporate its rhythms into the routine of survival. There’s little point exploring at night because it’s pitch black until the moon comes up, and even then it’s hard to see despite the brightness. You’ve also no idea what’s watching you. Avoiding the daytime would mean missing the colour and beauty that the forest contains. Green is predominant, obviously, and there’s vibrancy in the reds, blues and yellows of the flowers and creatures that punctuate the enveloping foliage. It also means that stumbling across evidence of humans is quite jarring and all the more interesting for it. Jake, Mia and the natives aren’t the only ones to be out in the wild, and these small vignettes on other activities work brilliantly alongside the dialogue and readable notes to flesh out what’s actually happening. It manages give you a wonderful sense of discovery on top of everything else.
Are there are faults with Green Hell and how it’s ported across? I can’t say for sure against the PC release, but it does feel like it’s taxing the hardware a bit, which is strange as I’ve been playing via the backwards compatibility on the PS5. The first few minutes have a lot of screen tear, which I really didn’t expect even though it does settle down quite quickly; and there’s a fairly consistent hitch in framerate as something is loaded out of view. As pretty as it is, and with a very high number of interactive elements in plain sight, you can expect some glitches now and then, so it’s good that it tends to be limited to texture loading, though flickering between day and night lighting on random objects is noticeable. The draw distance is a bit short too and in areas where there are fewer obstructions the fogging upsets the illusion. None of this impacts the gameplay though, and you find yourself with eyes glued to the ground watching for snakes and traps more often than trying to figure out if that’s a shadow or untextured rock a bit further ahead. Audio is superb by the way with just the right level of punchy noises to unnerve you, and Jake and Mia’s performances are top notch. I can’t ignore the journal shortcomings though. Where the game wants you to look out for particular flowers it has a picture in the journal which is just too dark to get any detail from. This is regardless of ambient light and meant that I skipped that section of the book despite how helpful it could have been.
I might have been looking out for Green Hell to see what type of survival experience it offered, but I really wasn’t expecting the level of detail and complexity in the story, and that’s the piece that I’ve genuinely been blown away by. It’s well told and planned out so that it guides you around the world, though doesn’t give out everything as there’s still an awful lot to find yourself. Those familiar with crafting titles will pick up the mechanics really easily, and be able to experiment to find some items earlier than the game gives them out, yet it will also feel new because of the visual detail and methods of picking through your backpack to find the right items. Anyone who has a masochist tendency will ramp the survival difficulties right up and relish the challenge and uncaring brutality of the jungle. There’s such a mix of elements going on that it feels like Creepy Jar have hit several different genres as well as making it as accessible as possible, and I think that’s the main appeal. You can play it your way and experience nature’s ambivalence at your own pace, or you can see how long you would last in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. Have at it.
A PS4 review copy of Green Hell was provided by Creepy Jar’s PR team, and the game is available on PS4 and Xbox One from 9th June for around £25 depending on platform (and is already on Steam and Switch).