OPINION | GAME ON: Video game tests how long you and your pals can survive the Amazon’s ‘Green Hell’

'Green Hell' is a multiplayer survival horror game. (Photo courtesy of Creepy Jar)
'Green Hell' is a multiplayer survival horror game. (Photo courtesy of Creepy Jar)

In 1971, the 17-year-old daughter of German biologists was the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Amazonian jungle. Injured and alone, she spent the next 11 days trekking to safety, despite 8-foot caiman alligators, spiders, poisonous snakes, mosquitoes and the like. A true miracle story, she survived.

The chance of staying alive in "Green Hell," an open-world survival-crafting game, seems equally remote. In my initial foray into the viridescent nightmare, I made it about two hours before a rattlesnake hidden in the underbrush led me to that great clearing at the end of the path.

The next few attempts were only moderately more successful, falling prey in short order to dehydration, infection, parasitic worms, jaguar attack and unfriendly natives.

In the story mode for "Green Hell," you'll play as anthropologist Jake Higgins, who is with his wife, Mia, an interpreter for a relatively uncontacted Amazonian tribe. She sets off alone to build relations with them, and when something goes wrong, Jake finds himself alone in the jungle with no food, water or tools.

"Green Hell" is a challenging game right out of the gate, even on the standard difficulty story mode. It's a staple in most survival games to have to manage gauges such as hunger and thirst. Some, like "The Long Dark," add fatigue and temperature into the mix. "Green Hell" takes it even further, with a watch that tracks your actual macronutrient intake, requiring you to get an optimal balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates to stay in peak condition. And that's in addition to a mental health gauge that tracks stress.

The story mode has Jake trying to solve the mystery of what happened to his wife, with a storyline that includes both friendly and unfriendly tribes, cartels, refugees, multinational pharmaceutical companies and the search for a miracle cure.

In survival mode, the story elements are gone, and it's just you in the forest, trying to stay alive as long as possible.

In the true spirit of misery loves company, both survival and story mode offer cooperative play, if you'd like to suffer together with a friend. That's actually probably the optimal way to play if you want a shot at collecting resources quickly and fending off dangerous predators.

The jungle is certainly chock-full of resources. Crafting starts small, taking sticks, rocks and vines to lash together simple tools such as stone axes and spears. Bamboo poles, banana leaves and palm fronds are used to lash together crude shelters, which offer a chance to save your game at a campsite between forays into the jungle (this is highly recommended).

Various mushrooms, herbs, flowers and fruits can be harvested, offering health or medicinal benefits for the multitude of injuries that will undoubtedly occur. When you're afflicted by a condition, the game has an interesting self-inspection mode in which you select your arms and legs, one by one, turning them this way and that to see if you've got a problem — a scrape, deep cut, infected wound, leech, embedded worm, rash, etc. — so that you can treat it.

Spend too much time on muddy ground? Here's a worm, embedded in your forearm. Treatment? Find a bone, harvest it into bone needles, then dig out the worm. But now you have an open wound. You can make bandages, but unless you also apply something antibacterial to the wound, it will become infected. Infected wounds cause health loss, sanity loss, fever — all very bad news.

Sanity loss is wild. Your character will start to imagine things, hear voices, see people who aren't there. It's a trip.

And that's much of the game. Explore, get injured, treat yourself, heal up, slowly advance your primitive level of technology and cache of resources, repeat.

For players of the Steam version on PC, a very welcome free expansion just launched called Animal Husbandry, which is as it suggests. Gone can be the days of trying to hunt wild pigs with a bow in the forest. Now, Jake can build an animal pen and breed tapirs, peccaries and capybaras (and who doesn't love capybaras?) They will even become tame and allow you to pet them. The newest update also added a blowgun that uses poison from brightly colored dart frogs and the ability to manage bee hives.

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The sheer amount of mechanics to keep track of, and the various ways crafting is learned and used add a bit of an unwelcome amount of difficulty. The steps needed just to do something basic such as build a small fire, use a fire drill to get a fire going and boil some water to purify it are kind of a lot, and although it becomes easier with time, it's not newbie-friendly.

For someone new to the survival genre, Green Hell should probably be experienced first on its easiest difficulty setting, which turns off predator animals and enemy attacks. For the experienced master of the wilderness, it should definitely be on your shortlist.

Disclaimer: This game was received free from the developer for the purposes of review.

‘Green Hell’

Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, NS, XB1

Cost: $24.99

Rating: Mature for violence, blood, strong language

Score: 8 out of 10


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