It's a valuable commodity in games... and one that can make or break a game. Nowadays it's a bit easier to capture that all important atmosphere, with modern technology allowing programmers to add far more colour (literally and metaphorically) than ever before. But back in the days of the Commodore 64, it was far more difficult to get right. A few games managed it... Paradroid was one, for example, The Sentinel was another. One game that was dripping with atmosphere was Beyond the Forbidden Forest.
Jesus. Can we not just go down the park, instead?
Right from the start, where a title screen warped from the twisted branches of the forest appears, lit only by lightning flashes that crack the night sky, you're spooked. And it doesn't get any less creepy. The game is kind to you to begin with... because it uses an unusual aiming system for your bow, it won't throw any creatures at you until you press the F7 key. But roaming around an empty forest with the most sinister, evil-sounding music playing is not for the faint of heart, either. You're just as well off pressing that key and getting on with it.
Run awaaaay! Run awaaaaaaaaaay!
The trouble is, when you do, it's the stuff of nightmares. Giant scorpions rush from the undergrowth, pincers snapping. Huge worms burst from underground... you never know where they'll spring from next, and too many misses with your arrows will see you dragged under... Mosquitos bigger than eagles swoop down, and will suck you dry. And there's a big stompy thing, too. Stomp, stomp, STOMP! And when day turns to night... very worrying indeed.
Ugh. I hate worms. Where's Kevin Bacon when you need him?
As if to prove that you're not in this alone, and that the Gods may be on (or by) your side, for every creature you defeat, a golden arrow will be delivered in a musical fanfare from the heavens. They're not given to you as a reward, though, or because they look nice. You'll need enough of these, at least six, in order to gain access to the Underworld, where even greater evils await...
No, that's alright Kev, you just stay up on that roof. I'll be AAAAARRRGGHHHH!!!
If you've ever watched a film that Ray Harryhausen worked on, you'll see the appeal in Beyond the Forbidden Forest. A lone archer, trapped in an evil forest, attacked by giant creatures... resurrected by a mystical light if killed... it's the stuff Dynamation movies were made of. Jason and the Argonauts would have nothing on this. Well... OK. This would be a close second to Jason and the Argonauts. That's awesome.
Phew, here comes the helicopter rescue. Oh, hang on...
And so is this. It might not look it... it's fair to say the graphics are a bit on the chunky side, but they work in the context of the game and are quite clever in the way they let you run (and fire) in and out of the screen. The music is excellent... each creature has its own "theme tune" along with the other short, sparse numbers, and all are either dramatic or evil-sounding.
If only I had a bag of marshmallows...
Beyond the Forbidden Forest is not necessarily a game with masses of replay value. There's no high score, and once you've seen the end there's not that much point going through it again. But getting there is an epic and very difficult journey, and one well worth taking, I reckon. It's another game that I'd love to see a remake of... and I was shocked to find that there was one for the PC, in 2003. I'm making an effort to obtain that... I'll report on that one as and when...