Imagine a world where every day is a matter of repeating the same basic tasks to stay alive, breaking down mundane routines to their component parts and trying to stave off the creeping onset of insanity. So far, so real world drudgery, but let’s add jaguars and parasitic worms to the mix.
Green Hell takes the common survival template and perfects it through stunning presentation, a fantastic sense of atmosphere, and a location that feels genuinely threatening at all times. It may not have caught the streaming imagination as much as Valheim’s Viking take on the genre, but with new content and further updates planned, this is one tropical getaway that you shouldn’t sleep on.
Green Hell’s story mode successfully introduces the main survival mechanics whilst lulling you into a false sense of security. Mooring your boat on the banks of the Amazon, your character Jake Higgins accompanies his wife, Mia, as they attempt to connect with a mysterious lost tribe, the Yabahuca. Mia hopes to discover more about their culture as a linguist and anthropologist, but as things develop it seems that the tribe have knowledge of a wonder drug that can cure cancer. It takes in a range of perspectives from the geopolitical to the shockingly intimate, all through the medium of Jake and his walkie-talkie. I went in expecting tough gameplay and lots of failure, but was genuinely surprised to be affected emotionally by the latter parts of Jake and Mia’s story.
There’s more of this story to come. The recently released Tribes of Amazonia – Part 1 acts as a prequel story to the events that have featured in the game since 2019. All told there’s an impressive amount of content in Green Hell with multiple different play modes and difficulty settings completely changing the experience.
I sought out the narrative modes as I am a self-confessed narrative gamer, but you can always opt for a pure survival mode, a hardcore challenge mode where you must achieve specific goals in a limited timeframe, or even a tourist-like exploration of the rainforest environment. Difficulty levels allow for an equally wide range of experiences, whether you want to face the continual threats of starvation, predators and hostile tribes or remove the perils and immerse yourself in the rhythms and routines of jungle life.
You’ll generally find yourself harvesting building material from the forest, foraging for food and water, and exploring to find abandoned camps and outposts for less rustic materials. To begin with you’ll probably find yourself starving to death or passing out pretty often – the latter will generally lead to you playing host to parasitic worms that will have to be removed and the wound bandaged. Exploring and trying out different potential foodstuffs will reveal their properties and you will learn more building designs as you discover existing structures in the wild. You can always keep track of a multitude of important details on your fancy watch, including a built in compass and GPS (although you’ll have to find maps to pinpoint landmarks – or keep copious notes), and a nutrition chart that highlights specific dietary needs.
The look and feel of Green Hell is an almost contradictory combination of exotic and claustrophobic. Whilst the map is fairly large, the density of the vegetation and networks of caves that you must navigate always make you feel hemmed in. You can move freely around the jungle itself, but must always keep an eye and ear out for danger. I lost count of the number of times that a promising section of gameplay quickly went south as I stood on a scorpion or rattlesnake and rapidly succumbed to their venom. This is the lesson that Green Hell teaches you pretty quickly – life is cheap in the jungle and you have to pay attention.
The rainforest of Green Hell is a gorgeous place to explore (until it kills you) with lush vegetation, lots of animal life, and some incredibly beautiful moments when the sun rises through the tree canopy. Light is used fantastically with the jungle feeling like an entirely separate – and entirely more threatening – place during the darker hours. While it may seem as if hiding in a shelter is the safest option, some challenges require nocturnal activity and you can easily find yourself far away from shelter when night falls. This visual effect is supported by some incredible audio design with the ambient noises of the rainforest punctuated by the piercing cry of predators or the ominous sounds of murderous tribesmen.
This mention of murderous tribesmen brings me to what was my main concern about the very idea of Green Hell. Playing as a white Western man exploring the deepest darkest jungle has immediate connotations of old fashioned and frankly racist colonial narratives. When you add in the magical remedy cliché there was a real risk that the final effect would leave a nasty taste. I’m happy to say that the story mode at least manages to critique this overall idea, and even offers up the potential for post-colonial readings.