The daughter of a late tech giant, Zooey Kunstmatigaard, has been missing for over 24 hours. Her father, Max Kunstmatigaard, was the inventor of the Nanodeck, a piece of tech which allows crime scenes to be investigated virtually. In a twisted fate of events, the first use of this Nanodeck by the newly established Remote Forensics Branch of the Department of Homeland Security will be to investigate the disappearance of Max’s daughter who was last seen alive by her stepmother, Mary.
Miga Games’ detective mystery game, Forest Grove, adds a unique flare to the genre with the inclusion of the Nanodeck. We interact with a virtual simulation of the crime scene, collecting DNA evidence by scanning objects around the house and using a hovercam to find security footage and audio recordings to help us piece together what happened to Zooey. Once we have enough evidence, we must determine if any of the persons of interest have committed a crime and match this with the evidence collected.
This is a lot to take in at first. For one, the concept of the hovercam doesn’t work very well when you can only uncover specific pieces of footage that are relevant to our understanding of the case. The mechanics behind this are overly complicated too. In most rooms, there will be a floating image which can be lined up with DNA traces around the room to create the image captured by the hovercam on the day this scene in particular happened. We’ll then be able to play an audio recording from this scene, and review the picture provided for any further evidence. There’ll also be just fragmented audio recordings lying around the house which we’ll have to recover and listen to.
I think the hovercam concept was really overused in Forest Grove. Had it only been available for a few instances of evidence, it wouldn’t be so much of a problem but these recordings are in nearly every room of the house. This means that the majority of Forest Grove is less about investigating physical evidence and more just uncovering audio and visual recordings and listening back to them to find out what happened.
Unfortunately what makes this even more impactful on the enjoyment of Forest Grove is the poor voice acting, which doesn’t do a great job at convincing me that these characters aren’t just reading off a script. This is partnered by music that isn’t necessarily bad, but is poorly chosen for the atmosphere that’s trying to be presented here. A lot of the time, I found the soundtrack to be far too intense for a game in which the gameplay mainly involves just looking for clues around a house and would put me on edge due to how unnecessarily eerie it was.
The visuals aren’t much better. The character models have a strange, uncanny valley look to them, to the point where the less they were shown the better. While the graphics of the house itself aren’t necessarily bad, the lighting is way too dark and I found myself having to drag the standing light around everywhere just to see anything. There’s no way to adjust brightness settings, either. I also found multiple points in Forest Grove where you would be reading messages between the characters and they would, for example, say they are at the hospital and then post a picture of themselves at the hospital. However, the image would not be taken as a selfie, as though they got someone else to take a picture of them. This would also happen in a car with just two people, from an angle that would only be possible if a third person was crouched on the dashboard taking the picture.
The idea of Forest Grove is to piece together your own conclusion of what happened and back it up with the right evidence. However, the game will only allow you to submit your findings once you have collected a certain amount of the total evidence available in the house. This meant that I knew exactly what had happened and who the culprit was but had to spend another hour going over the house with a fine tooth comb just to look for enough random evidence to get me over the threshold where I could submit my findings.
Forest Grove fails to do what other brilliant detective games, such as The Return of the Obra Dinn and The Painscreek Killings, have accomplished. It doesn’t make you feel like a genius as, although it claims to not hold your hand, the majority of the game does consist of just listening to audio recordings with very little brain work at play. Forest Grove feels overly reliant on the futuristic technology to tell its story which turned out to be not as impacting or unveiling as I’d hoped too.
Jess played Forest Grove on PC with a review code.