“Endling: Extinction is Forever” review: A powerful environmental message
Oin the first moments of Endling: extinction is eternal, we take on the role of a little fox escaping from a burning forest. Why it burns we don’t know yet, but the graffiti scrawled on the endangered species signs indicate it’s probably our fault. We race through this apocalyptic environment, climbing dirt ledges and digging under fallen and charred trees.
We’re not alone in our struggle – we see little rabbits scurrying across the foreground and an elk leaping overhead as it flees for its life. Eventually we come to a precipice, the flames licking our legs – the end of the road. Our decision on what to do next is ripped from us as the moose bursts onto the screen, its horns flaming as it thrashes about furiously, trying to put them out. In his frustration, he rushes towards us, sending us both to the edge of the cliff. As we luckily land in old trash bags piled below, the moose is not so lucky.
It lies on the ground, its antlers now smoking against the orange-tinged sky. Finding the strength for one more painful cry, he collapses to the ground. The fox then returns to its lair in the rain, collapsing as lightning strikes outside, a single tear rolling down its cheek.
It’s a heartbreaking opening. But as upsetting as it sounds, I consider it just a sadness tutorial – a developer’s kind attempt to prepare us for what’s to come. Endling: extinction is eternal is a side-scrolling 3D adventure from Herobeat Studios, and it’s a painful experience from start to finish. But if you can mentally prepare yourself, it’s extremely rewarding.
The heroine fox of this story is not just any fox; she is the last mother fox on Earth. Taking on the role of doting parent, it’s your job to protect your four cubs in a world that’s been brought to its knees by climate change, deforestation, pollution – take your pick. To do this, you’ll need to venture outside the safety of your fox den to scavenge food, with your cubs’ hunger level indicated by a visible green bar. endling operates on a day and night cycle, meaning you’ll have a limited time at night to explore before the dangers of the day appear.
Food odor can be detected and tracked to the source, which can be one of many things, each requiring its own method of acquisition. A wandering rabbit provides good food, but you’ll have to sneak up on it to kill it. A pile of trash offers an easy source of waste, but presents its own risk of being trapped in any hazards that might be there.
Exploration will eventually generate new routes as you unlock shortcuts to your starting point, and a handy map is always available to follow unlocked areas and points of interest. However, it can still be a bit difficult to know where to go sometimes, and even if endling is side-scrolling, routes veer in three dimensions, making the world feel much bigger than it is.
Luckily, the exploration is nothing but pure joy, as the art direction that underpins this world is staggering. The simple yet beautiful illustrations and color palette work perfectly together to encourage detail to pop in both the sharp foreground and the expansive visual backgrounds. This is complemented by a soulful score filled with the taut pitch of string instruments and the industrial buzz of electric guitar, accentuating each scene, carefully crafted to make your heart pound, swoon or sink as needed.
How quickly you return to your den each night needs to be carefully managed. Coming back too soon means a long period of sleep without food. Likewise, danger lurks around every turn, so lingering in the wasteland longer than necessary could prove your doom. The owls watch from the high branches of the trees, waiting to dive. Bear traps sit and wait for a little paw to step forward, and the many humans living in this abandoned wasteland are, almost exclusively, out to harm you. But that’s the risk you have to take, because if you fail in your goal, it’s your little ones who pay the price. It’s no coincidence that you have the option to customize their colors at the start of the game.
Every design decision in endling is made to bring you closer to each of them. Scenes take place in the den between your fetch excursions showing your little ones snoring softly, eating, or playing games with each other, and the animations work beautifully with the simple art style to demonstrate the animals’ emotions. As you traverse the environment with them, they age and grow, each learning unique skills that can be used in the wild, instilling a personality over time. You fight to protect them and calm them down when they are scared. It doesn’t take long before you can ignore the love you have developed for them, which makes things so much harder when they go wrong. Death is a theme that permeates all of endling, but it is never felt more powerfully than when your best efforts are not enough to protect your babies. And it will break your soul.
There is a rich narrative that runs through endling it takes you away from the safety of your den and deeper into human-controlled territory, as you follow the whereabouts of one of your cubs stolen by a fierce-looking man known as The Scavenger. Sniffing out clues will unlock retold moments of past events, and you’ll slowly piece the mystery together.
Incidentally, you will learn more about the people of this world, exploring the factories and surrounding lands where they continue to ravage the planet’s natural resources. The constant barrage of near-fatal abuse you encounter from every source imaginable can be enough to deter you from risking close encounters. But even here, in the darkest times, kindness can be found – and it’s through those brief glimmers of affection that you’ll find some semblance of joy in what is otherwise a barbaric tale.
Moreover, you will begin to discover that each person affected by this catastrophe has their own fate and that nothing is black or white at the end of the world. endling is an environmental message bellowed by the developers without even a token gesture of subtlety. Extinction is forever, and while that might not be the current state of reality, it’s clear that Herobeat Studios wants to make sure we’re aware that’s the direction we’re heading in. .
Endling: extinction is eternal launches July 19 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. NME reviewed it on PC.
Endling: extinction is eternal has as much subtlety in its message as in its title. But that’s the point. What it does have, however, is a nuanced, beautiful, and tragic story to back up that message. It’s a masterfully crafted side-scrolling adventure brimming with emotion, backed by beautiful visuals and music. It blends its narrative and survival elements perfectly, and while it’s hard to call something so painful and enjoyable, it’s a deeply moving and worthwhile experience.
- A strong and important environmental message
- A powerful and emotional story
- Simple but beautiful visuals
- A carefully curated custom soundtrack
- Well-balanced narrative and survival elements
- Might be too overwhelming for some
- Can be confusing where to go next