The Forest Cathedral

The Forest Cathedral

Not to be confused with an investigation into wrestling moves.

The Forest Cathedral

Telling the story of Rachel Carson’s investigation into the effects of DDT on the food chain – a real life event that heralded a huge amount of change and regulation in the foods and drugs industries – The Forest Cathedral isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a video game.  Sure, titles have been and gone in the past that have explored poignant subject matter or told heartfelt, harrowing or horrific events from multiple perspectives; but I can’t honestly remember a game that took on the task of educating the world about an early environmental activist.  It stands out for this in both the effort to find a compelling way to create a game around essentially a biography, and how it needs to push artistic license to keep the player engaged and compelled.  The question though is whether it manages to succeed and offer up a different gaming experience to the usual holiday season deluge, whilst doing it on a shoestring budget.

Gameplay in The Forest Cathedral is a blend of the 3D exploration of “Science Island” with you guiding Rachel around mosquito filled swamps and examining the local wildlife, and 2D platforming used to operate mechanisms and open up new paths.  I really like that concept and it put me a little in mind of The Pedestrian without quite the same bleed of 2D into the 3D world.  It doesn’t go down that route, it keeps the two styles distinctly separate – using the FPS mechanics to move you around the limited area of the island and interacting with screens and radios, that in turn enable the platforming that connects power lines or opens gates.  There’s no doubt it feels like two games in one and I’m not going to lie, the 2D elements are the pieces that stand out whereas the 3D initially makes you wonder what quick asset flip from a money grubbing studio you’ve stumbled upon.  One of the opening sections has you navigating a Call of Duty-style training course filled with dummies and targets, despite the fact that there’s no combat, peril or even guns.  Weird and disorienting isn’t quite strong enough to describe it, and this comes after quite a strange cutscene introduction where there’s almost a commentary on the role of female scientists in the 60’s and how sexism was rife… but it quickly eschews that and decides not to follow it up.  It’s jarring and not the greatest way to bring you into the story.

Push through that opener – and the always on subtitles that change size depending on how many words are on the screen, distracting from the decent voiceover work – and you’re thrown into a day by day account of life as a scientist on the island.  It all happens quickly, days are a matter of minutes, if that, and each is split by pixel art codec calls with either the chief scientist or Rachel’s partner.  Again, with the quick cuts, no preamble and being left to pull the pieces together you feel not really engaged in events.  I must have questioned what I was playing multiple times in the first 15 minutes, and those with little patience will probably not make it that far.  However, when it does start to settle down The Forest Cathedral relinquishes a bit of control allowing you to wander freely around, as well as start to push the main story along.  Here it switches to faux horror which arguably is a better tone than gung ho FPS, though still doesn’t fully gel.  At least it’s clear what’s happening and what you need to do.  I don’t know what point it is that it all clicks together, yet it does and from then on it’s a reasonably enjoyable ride to the end with nothing too taxing getting in the way.  As enjoyable as the tale can be that is, dealing with the real life issue of DDT as an insecticide isn’t going to be all sunshine and rainbows.  Kudos to Rachel Carson’s voice actor for putting the right level of emotion and gravitas into her performance, it definitely works.

The Forest Cathedral is over quite quickly though, very clearly not outstaying its welcome or being selfish with your time.  It’s also highly accessible with some base options that help the platforming if you’re struggling.  That won’t help the slightly ropey production though that can see your notebook appear over the platforming display preventing a view of the little guy you’re controlling; nor will it hide that whilst this on latest gen hardware it’s in no way taxing any of it.  Don’t expect to drop it into rest mode at any point either, the console won’t like that and when you reboot you have to start again as there are no save checkpoints or level select options… and the trophies might not ding too.  All in, there’s no doubt this is a low budget small team effort that attempts something different, and it probably is worth a playthrough on that merit.  Does it ingratiate itself from the off and deliver a memorably compelling story?  Unfortunately it misses the mark there, but you just might learn something.

A PS5 review copy of The Forest Cathedral was provided by Whitethorn Games PR team, and it’s out now on PC, PlayStation and Xbox for around £15.

The Verdict


The Good: Interesting subject matter | 2D/3D puzzle blend is nice

The Bad: Feels like an asset flip initially | Some puzzle elements a hinderance | Buggy

The following two tabs change content below.


Co-founder & Editor at Codec Moments

Gamer, F1 fanatic, one half of the Muddyfunkrs DJ duo (find us over on Hive Radio UK), MGS obsessed, tech geek.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *