In The Forest, players control Eric LeBlanc and must survive on a forested peninsula in search of his son Timmy after a devastating plane crash. Players must survive by creating shelter, weapons, and other survival tools. Inhabiting the peninsula, along with various woodland creatures, are a tribe of cannibalistic mutants, who dwell in villages on the surface and in deep caves beneath the peninsula. While they are not necessarily always hostile to the player, their usual behavior is aggressive, especially during the night.
The player also possesses an inventory, which can be accessed at almost any time in the game. Any item that the player gathers, or collects in the world is stored in the inventory, which has a realistic design and shows where each item is stored. Items that can be placed in the inventory include tools, weapons, animal meats, furs, and skins, herbs and flowers, a map, a compass, as well as other things.
The player also has a HUD display on the bottom right of their screen. The HUD displays the player's total health, energy, stamina, hunger, and thirst levels. The amount of stamina available is directly related to the energy amount of the player.
There are lots of gameplay. Build shelters, weapons, and other survival tools and survive in the forest-covered peninsula. Cut down trees to build a camp or start a fire to keep warm. Clear food to avoid starvation. Build a small bunker or a large seaside fort. Place traps and defenses to stay within a safe range. Explore and build during the day. Defend the base at night. Craft weapons and tools. Take cover in the evening or bring the fight directly to the enemy. Defend yourself against a group of genetically mutated enemies who have faith, family, morals and are almost human. Use stealth to hide from the enemy or engage them directly with crude weapons built of sticks and stones.