As temperatures soared to record breaking numbers over the last few weeks it seems like synchronic poetry that a game like Endling: Extinction is Forever would make its way into my email inbox. An artful and scarring warning of the effects that humanity is having upon our very own world, Herobeat Studio’s debut game is as sentimentally beautiful as it is startlingly brutal, eliding the tenderness of nature with the dooming savagery of humankind and all that we tear down with it.
Though Endling has its stumbles with repetitive gameplay, its main thematic goal, beautifully rendered through an immersive, often distressing, world and a deeply emotional tale of tribulation, will undeniably leave a lasting impression on any who pass through it.
Survive the World
Endling: Extinction is Forever describes itself as an eco-conscious adventure. You play as the last fox on Earth in a world utterly ravaged by mankind—we’re talking near Mad Max levels of apocalypse at points here, complete with psychos in masks and vast, dry, wastelands—trying merely to get by and keep your four new-born cubs alive.
Right from the off Endling drops you into action with an immense and distressing wildfire sequence, your fox tearing panicked through a burning blaze consuming its woodland home and all other life in it. It is an excellent opening sequence in all, setting the haunted tone and theme that the rest of the game thrives on incredibly while driving you straight into the action, and it is played over a wonderful score by Manel Gil-Inglada that wonderfully sells the sharp distress of the moment.
From here Endling slows right down, but it rarely loses its looming sense of doom and danger. Wounded by the blazing escape, your fox limps wearily to shelter and gives birth to four cubs. Now it is your job to leave shelter under the cover of night to explore your new world and gather food for your family while avoiding the various dangers around.
The world is explored via various 3-dimensional side scrolling areas with many branching paths coming off each—you hop off one path into another and typically can move left or right until you find another path to switch into. It is nicely presented and does exhibit a nice sense of scale through the many paths. The world is also good fun to explore, areas showing a lot of variation and sometimes requiring a bit of work to puzzle through. I also love the 3D art style of the piece with the backgrounds often harbouring plenty of nice little story and world details to look at.
As you venture out each night to gather food you will have limited time to explore and gather before the sun begins to rise at which point the world will become more dangerous as humans awake unless you return back to shelter to sleep and start the next night. While exploring you can try to catch scents for animals to hunt or foods to gather as well as checking out different areas marked each new night as “events”.
Reunite Your Family
After the first few nights catch you up with the basics the main thrust of the story will begin when one of your cubs is abducted by a human. For the rest of the game you will take the other three out with you each night as you continue to both raise and feed them, and try to follow the scent of your missing cub in a bid to find out who has taken them and where. Every few nights a new scent will appear that will lead you to story markers and unlock the next clue to your cub’s fate.
This is where the game does run into issues of repetitiveness, however, with the game forcing you to wait around for the story to progress a lot of the time. As the game progresses new areas and locked paths will eventually open up, so for the first half of the game there is usually plenty to do and explore each night meaning waiting several nights for the next part of the story to reveal itself isn’t too much of a problem. Plus, as time progresses across nights you will find that more of the world is changing as the humans continue to mine and deforest the area, switching up how you can explore from night to night. Your goals are generally the same each night—find food, check out a new area if possible, teach your cubs a new skill—but the dynamic progression of the world keeps a nice freshness and also hits upon the game’s themes well.
Eventually, however, these changes begin to slow at which point Endling finds itself at a bit of a standstill for a lot of its second half. When the world has all been explored and food is no longer much of a problem you will find yourself just trying to tide time over each night in hopes that the next day will present a new story scent. Progressing the story is entirely an inactive exercise; instead of having you need to search for new trails the game just makes you wait around for a night where one will present itself. There’s no challenge or work to the discovery.
Yes, the danger around the world does ramp up considerably with progression, the humans getting more aggressive and leaving more traps over time, but when there is no story element to explore or no need to travel far from home then this danger is largely nullified—you could, if you wanted, just wait next to your shelter on these nights until the time has elapsed to go back to sleep.
It is disappointing that even though Endling is a short 4-hour experience, the back half can slow down to a slog because of this design choice. Everything else in Endling is working wonderfully, but this repetitiveness does unfortunately pull the game back from being an unquestioningly excellent piece to one that can only reasonably be labelled as good.
In terms of world building and theme Endling is sharp; the game confidently sidles through incredible sequences, both brutal and beautiful, needling at its audience constantly with scathing eco-conscious critiques and pulling at the heartstrings with the type of wired-up emotional pincering that even Pixar would be proud of. On the critical end Endling does everything it needs to, getting its message across in an artful, resonant manner to eventually have you unashamedly (or perhaps shamefully) weeping as the credits roll. It is only in its gameplay that Endling is pinged with a wounded limp, but, by the nature of the entire project my guess would be that Herobeat Studios would far prefer the former to take the applause than the latter anyway.
Final Score: 7/10