There are some places on Earth that you just don’t want to be stranded in. The arctic wilderness, the middle of the ocean or in the centre of a great desert would all tax anyone who needed to survive before finding a way out. But what if you can’t escape, at least until you’ve found your wife? And what if instead of those places, where visibility and claustrophobia aren’t a problem, you’ve been stranded in the middle of an Amazon rainforest? Welcome to Green Hell.
Developers Creepy Jar have gone out of their way to create a truly immersive and enormously challenging survival sim in Green Hell; one which takes you deep into the heart of the Amazon and challenges you to survive. The story mode begins with a decent tutorial that sets the scene, and this sees you play as the husband of an interpreter who is meeting with a seldom seen Amazonian tribe. She goes missing whilst with them and you end up lost, confused and with no equipment except for a rather nice smart watch.
Green Hell is a first-person survival game which shares surface similarities with the rest of the genre. You’re tasked to keep an eye on several stats that track your wellbeing, largely known as “micro-elements” such as your hydration, protein, fat and carb levels (there’s no Atkins in the Jungle folks). You’ll forage through the dense jungle looking for sticks, stones and other usable items, as well as things to eat. You can find a wide array of mushrooms, many of which are edible, as well as fruits. Once you get armed and figure out how to make a fire, you can hunt and try to get a proper hot meal under your belt.
My first cooked meal in my run on Green Hell was a delicious two course meal of mouse meat and macaw meat. Neither topped my levels up very far. Often in Green Hell you’ll be just about keeping ahead of critical levels and even on lower difficulty levels, the game is quite unforgiving. As you might imagine given the heat and the humidity, your hydration level is one of the fastest to run out and you’ll need to quickly find a source of safe water. Whilst there’s plenty of standing water in the jungle, even at your starting location in story mode, this stuff might not be safe to drink and you can contract parasites which will further sap your nutrient levels.
The jungle is teeming with life, ranging from the larger animals such as capybara and tapirs to the ever present but barely visible insects. You’ll hear the steady buzz of insects as you make your way through the jungle and sometimes, if you stray too close to an ant’s nest for example, you’ll find yourself getting bitten. After an encounter with one of the Green Hell’s smaller residents, you’ll need to inspect the injuries. Green Hell is not for the squeamish. You can look at all four of your limbs to see what state they’re in and don’t be surprised to find big bug bites, contusions, cuts or leeches having a meal. Each injury requires treatment or you’ll risk infection, and there are different treatments for each one.
Luckily the game provides you with an in-world notebook which is updated whenever you encounter something new, telling you what you need to do with it and what the risks are. Leeches, for example, can just be “pulled” off your body by clicking on them. If you get worms, well you’re going to need to make a “bone needle” for them.
The game has a wide array of crafting options, some of which require the easily found sticks and vines, to complex things that require you find a seam of iron to mine and a way to forge it into better, more durable equipment. Your low-level sticks and stones equipment has a tendency to break but then you’ll just make some more, whilst the better equipment will last longer and is far more effective. You’ll want to make an axe for cutting trees, a spear to protect yourself and to hunt with, a bow if you want to take out animals and enemies from afar and a shelter so you can sleep safely and save the game.
Throughout, you’ll follow the steps your missing wife has taken, looking at notes left behind and taking part in mysterious “rituals” that will unlock the missing past and allow you to follow her in an increasingly strange and unsettling journey that’ll take you deeper and deeper into the jungle.
You’ll come across plenty of animals, most of which will flee at the sight of you. Tapirs, armadillos, parrots and mice will all just flee, often with an accompanying sound effect to let you know they saw you. You can try to hunt these animals too, which will provide protein rich-meat and perhaps some other items that can be useful to you, but some of the bigger ones are fairly tough, even if they don’t have much in the way of weapons. These will kill you if you get too close.
I died several times after being bitten by rattlesnakes, who hide out and give you a quick rattle to let you know not to come too close. You can also run into stingrays whilst in the water, poison frogs (safety tip, don’t pick them up with your bare hands or you’ll get poisoned) and jaguars. These furry bad-boys are no joke and will attack if you get too close, and even if they don’t kill you outright, they’ll give you enough wounds that’ll need treatment or you’ll get infected and die.
On the standard difficulty level, you’ll also have to battle with your own character’s sanity as they deal with fear and isolation within the claustrophobic confines of the jungle. Sleeping rough, being dirty or injured, and some of the things you’ll see will all cause a hit to your sanity which can end up with you hearing voices and even seeing things that aren’t there. The sanity mode is tough and may well be quite triggering for some people: so fair warning before you play the game with this mode switched on.
Luckily Green Hell comes with four difficulty settings as well as a custom setting to allow you to fine tune your own specific hell to your tastes. If creepy crawlies aren’t your thing, you can switch some of them off. You can also remove the hostile natives and even reduce the speed your nutrition depletes or switch it off entirely.
If you really just want to experience the story and explore in peace, you can switch over to tourist mode where the game setting just becomes a beautiful but still atmospheric ride through the jungle which, for my money, is not what is intended. I’d steer clear of this mode unless the challenge is beyond you.
The game also has survival mode, which takes the story out and generates a new jungle for you to explore and survive in. This sandbox mode can also have its difficulty level tailored to the experience you want to have and is quite a good way to learn some skills, but it doesn’t have the same engaging through-line of the story mode.
Finally, for the really experienced or masochistic players, there’s challenge mode where the game will set a challenge to produce, hunt or find a certain number of items within a set amount of time. This is a much more concentrated form of Green Hell and you’ll not be able to take the safer and more cautious approach that is rewarded in the main game.
You don’t have to go it alone either. If you have some buddies that also fancy the sheer experience of the Green Hell, then up to four of you can try to survive together which radically changes the experience, adding teamwork and the ability to share tasks or to specialize. The jungle’s AI population gets a boost in its numbers to keep the challenge up but multiplayer is less scary – though still scary – and can be a bit more enjoyable as you’ve got players to talk to and ways to work together and make your time more efficient.
Speaking of scary, Green Hell probably ranks about mid-way in the survival game “scary” scale. The lack of visibility at times and the near pitch-black night times are pretty scary and the snakes, spiders and jaguars can be quite scary, in a jump scare kind of way. That’s a lot of scary right there. Further, the sanity loss stuff is very unsettling and disturbing, and the story gets quite dark in places. Still, it’s not as scary as the “King” of the scary survival games, Subnautica.
Green Hell is not without its problems, mind you. Made for the PC, there are times when you can tell that the game would prefer you to play with a mouse and keyboard to the controller. The finicky crafting controls can be a bit of a pain and things like starting a fire (where you’ll need to find the fuel needed from your backpack) can be tricky.
There’s also a persistent issue with accidentally falling asleep! Your backpack, notebook and inspection modes are all accessed by the same radial wheel as the “go to sleep” option, and if you let go of the button to trigger it too soon you may well find your cursor has landed on go to sleep, you’ll yawn and see the sleep menu come up. This is extremely annoying and I haven’t been able to find an easy way to get around it.
There are also some issues with the game’s visibility which are probably deliberate. However, the stylized script in the notebook can be hard to read at times; something which is a challenge that the game likely did not intend. Once you’ve played Green Hell for a while, you’ll want to find a helpful wiki to explain how to do some of the things and make items that the notebook either hasn’t explained or you can’t figure out!
I wouldn’t however consider the game’s rough difficulty curve to be a fault by the way. Green Hell makes no bones about how hard it can be and gives you plenty of chances to tailor the difficulty level to suit. You should find an experience to suit your skill and your willingness to preserve and reload your last save! You can’t save the game at will either; you’ll need a shelter. But you should resist the temptation to save often as you can end up in a “death loop” if you save at the wrong time.
Green Hell’s difficulty is a feature of the game and your sense of achievement will be huge when you successfully build a new shelter, when you craft a new bow, create a nice piece of equipment or when you successfully evade a predator (or even take one down with a poison tipped arrow!). There’s also a deep and affecting story to be experienced in the game’s main mode too.
Green Hell is visually very impressive also, with lush colours and the most realistic-feeling jungle I’ve encountered in a video game. Undergrowth crunches underfoot, plants are brushed back from you and the soundscape is immersive, though at times you may get tricked by your own footsteps which sometimes appear to continue even when you’re not moving. The animals all have a distinct appearance, movements and calls which you’ll quickly come to recognize.
Through my time with Green Hell I did encounter a few very minor glitches, largely with animal pathing and a couple of items that just appeared to vanish once they were picked up, but these were isolated and I didn’t run into any lock-ups or full-on crashes, which is great for a new release.
In all, Green Hell is a hugely challenging, massively immersive game that will transplant you in the Amazonian jungles in both a good and a bad way. The level of immersion is such that, at times, I found myself itching in real life, checking my arms to make sure there weren’t ants or other bugs crawling on me. That’s quite an impressive feat that the game constantly gets across and Creepy Jar should be proud of the world they’ve built here.
If you’re ready for a tough survival challenge that is not for the faint hearted (or the squeamish) then you shouldn’t hesitate to take a trip into the Green Hell.
Green Hell welcomes you to the jungle on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One