At Least the Title is Accurate
Doing anything for the first time can be difficult. That’s not a non sequitur, either. I mention that because I recently learned that Green Hell is developer Creepy Jar’s first game as a team. And while it’s possible to strike gold the first time around, it’s also pretty rare. And as much as I’d love to rave about this game, Green Hell proved a challenge I had significant trouble surmounting. But before I get into the weeds, I’m gonna go over the premise of the game and showcase what it does right.
Despite the Happy Couple, This is no Romance Tale
Green Hell is all about a couple stranded in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest. You play Jake, and your significant other is Mia. She’s the group’s translator, and she’s determined to interact with a native tribe that is closed against the outside world. There are definite horror overtones to the plot, and it’s clear early on something isn’t right. Not only is Mia acting a bit sketchy, but your campsite is missing some of the tools you had ordered. Regardless, the couple is upbeat and confident things will work out in their favor. As any fan of the horror genre can tell you, that’s often the first step on the path to damnation.
Starting Fires Has Never Been Harder
Your first step is to learn the ins and outs of Green Hell through the tutorial. I appreciated elements such as striking up a conversation with my walkie talkie and gathering ingredients to make tools. You have a handy wheel that lets you select from various menus, such as Jake’s notebook. There you’ll acquire recipes that tell you how much of each ingredient you need to make objects. These range wildly from wooden shelters to tools to start fires to even bandages to salve wounds. That’s all great, in theory. The problem is, in execution, it’s another matter altogether.
At Least the Notebook is Handy
To put it mildly, the lack of coherent direction in Green Hell is problematic. Case in point, I got stuck repeatedly in the tutorial itself. And that’s not cause I wasn’t paying attention. Oftentimes the prompts given to the player are in stark contradiction with what you need to do. I was trying and trying to follow directions to start a fire. I had all the proper tools, including a bird’s nest. But the tutorial kept telling me to place it in a slot to use it. There were nodes on the bundle of twigs that served as my would-be fire, and I tried placing it there. The result was the bird’s nest kept falling onto the ground, forcing me to pick it up and try again. I only lucked into the solution by accident when I tried selecting the bird’s nest and found there was a Use Item choice. But given that the tutorial never once told me that, this was an unnecessarily difficult process. I know some gamers don’t like hand-holding, but there’s a difference between clarity of controls and fumbling about blindly. If things are intuitive, then it’s less important to have a series of tutorials. But when those tutorials themselves misdirect the player, I get really irritated.
What a Lovely Settlement!
Sadly this was just the beginning of my own personal tribulation in Green Hell. After you finish the tutorial, you get a frantic call from Mia. Then the game shows images of running through the forest. It’s not clear what’s happening, but once the cinematic is over, you wake up outside your camp with a case of amnesia and only your radio. Once more, Mia is frantically asking for help, and your only objective is to find her. The problem is, all your gear is gone—no machete to cut with and no map. Sure, you have your backpack and SmartWatch, but without tools to use, those were kinda useless. I couldn’t even cut trees into smaller branches, which are the cornerstone of several item recipes. So I wandered quite a bit and finally found a map, but it only showed me where to go, not where I was. I decided to take a break and come back to the game later. But when I did, I found that the game hadn’t saved my progress, and when I loaded up my file later, I was without my map and had to start that segment all over again. I tried, but got lost and somehow poisoned. What transpired was like a poorly written one-man show of The Blair Witch Project. Except I was all alone and already dying slowly, without the tools to heal myself.
Have a Map, But No Sense of Direction
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I didn’t have the best time in Green Hell. I did wander about a lot, but things were too heavily weighed against me. And I had only picked the default difficulty. While I appreciate what the game is trying here, it just didn’t work with an open-world survival sim. I think it could have with a clearer UI, coherent direction, and less complex controls. But without those, I was just flailing about in the darkness. I guess I should feel thankful I didn’t get killed by any wild animals or angry natives, but it’s really frustrating to die of natural conditions as I explored.
At Least the Graphics Are Attractive
While mechanically, the game is frankly a mess, it doesn’t do everything wrong. Visually it’s surprisingly well put together. Though not next-gen by any stretch, it’s pretty attractive. There’s a good use of light and darkness, and the water effects were surprisingly dynamic. It kind of reminded me of an upscaled Turok. The sound design is also impressive. The burble and cries of wildlife as you explore the rainforest really makes everything feel alive. The voice acting is also pretty solid, though I was frustrated how the sound would randomly scale down occasionally. Thankfully the subtitles allowed me to not miss any details.
Though I would prefer to stay upbeat, I do need to talk about the controls some more. You press the down button on the left Joy-Con to bring up the menu wheel, and press up to activate your walkie. Those are fine, but once you open a more expansive menu, you need to use your joystick to move a mouse cursor around, which is both slow and annoying. Worse, in the backpack menu, you have to move the cursor across tabs. But often, the items in your backpack are in the way of said tabs, such as the machete. I often picked up and accidentally dropped weapons as a result. Most of the controls in the game had similar issues. I just wished for something more streamlined. It seems clear Green Hell was meant to be played with a mouse and keyboard. But to port a game to consoles, developer Creepy Jar really needed to create controls meant for a totally different setup.
Lost in the Forest
I don’t hate Green Hell, but I do lament what it could have been. I went into the game with an open mind and a willingness to try things out. Sadly, the lack of coherent direction and awkward controls made the game overly difficult. While I’m not adverse to challenge, it is a nitpick of mine to get lost due to sloppy design. I honestly hope Creepy Jar takes my notes constructively and uses them to make their next game a masterpiece. Sadly, this particular entry is quite hard to recommend.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC; Publisher: Forever Entertainment S.A.; Developer: Creepy Jar; Players: 1; Released: October 8, 2020; MSRP: $24.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.