Ever since I read the first book in the Boxcar Children series back in elementary school, I’ve liked the idea of being a resourceful survivor–finding a way to survive a bad situation and make a good life out of scraps. And I’ve been a “gamer” in one form or another my whole life, so it surprises me that it’s only been in the past few years I made the connection between these two aspirations and jumped into survival games like Subnautica, The Forest and The Long Dark. Of course it’d be fun to see if I could brave the elements and fight off enemies and build a pretty rad shelter–why didn’t I see it before?
This was my impetus to check out Green Hell, with its shiny new Spirits of Amazonia Update. Story driven and committed to realism, it seemed like it’d be a good fit for one of my newfound favorite genres of games. I love a good story hook and I also love trying to build a cool shelter and cook a few tasty morsels over a freshly built campfire. And maybe, that dedication to realism Green Hell has meant I was diving in the deep end, and drowning in it, but it’s not all bad news.
Green Hell prides itself on being a realistic survival simulator that’s also gorgeous and features a well thought out story in the vein of a psychological thriller. To a large extent it at least mildly succeeds on all fronts, with a pretty good story hook and a lush and beautiful rainforest that belies the dangers around every corner. Unfortunately, it’s hard to sink your teeth into.
For one thing, realistic survival means that the rainforest will kill you. All.the.time. I have no problem with a challenge, and I don’t mind a grind, but there’s that little carrot that keeps driving you forward in a lot of games in the genre that seems to be absent in Green Hell. The realism is appealing, true, but it’s also still a game, so I’d like to have seen there be a little more balance in this area. I understand the appeal of dropping Jake into the middle of the rainforest with literally nothing on him, but given the game’s extreme grind for mats and many dangers, would it have hurt to put greener players in that same forest with a machete? And while I know games like The Forest also have the “build a shelter to be able to save” mechanic, it’s honestly not my favorite. I hate the feeling that I can’t put the game down because I broke another blade and have to go scavenging for more stones (which are surprisingly rare…realism?) just as I finally collected all but 2 logs for the shelter. Realistically, I have to be able to walk away when I need to, and if that means I have to start again from square one, it’s a real pain point.
Though unevenly voice acted and sometimes a little tropey, Green Hell’s narrative is fairly intriguing, and Spirits of the Amazonia is no different. Instead of following the events of the original story, it precedes them, and while prequels aren’t always successful, in this case, I felt like it was a good choice, since the story started off with a few of Jake and Mia’s most interesting moments far in the past, and only retold through flashbacks or conversations.
Spirits of the Amazonia also allows you to more directly interact with the tribes that populate the rainforest, and to earn their trust. In fact, most of what you’ll be doing when checking out the expansion is either directly talking to the tribal members and earning their trust via various quests like hunting down wildlife or rescuing lost children or deciphering various legends scrawled on stones. This adds some good direction and pacing that helps alleviate some of that grindy feeling, and gives you a reason to explore.
On top of the new story elements, Spirits of the Amazonia takes place in a totally new area of the jungle, with new places to explore. There were also a few quality of life improvements, including a bit of a rebalance with some of the wildlife, some new mechanics and some tweaks to the old ones, with a few new flora to discover. There’s more to come with Green Hell in the future as The Spirits of Amazonia has 2 more planned story pieces, and I hope with the upcoming adds, they’ll address some old pain points, like the tutorial, which is both tedious and incomplete, and some of the basic mechanics, like crafting, where controls can be finicky and a few more prompts would help speed things along.
Overall though, Spirits of Amazonia is a nice add to a solid survival game with an intriguing story. While you might find yourself frustrated at its brutal version of realism and the difficulty levels don’t do much to change that unless you completely go “walk in the park” with it, it does have a pull.
Green Hell: The Spirits of the Amazonia is available now on Steam.
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