Need to know
What is it? Like the rolling boulder levels from Crash Bandicoot, but you’re steering a herd of mutant Q*berts.
Expect to pay $30/£24
Developer ACE Team
Publisher Good Shepherd Entertainment
Reviewed on Intel i7-6700 HQ, NVIDIA Geforce GTX 960M, 8GB RAM
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
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It’s tricky telling stories about the apocalypse when you’re in the middle of one. Where videogames about the End Times once dealt in nuclear wastelands, the slow onset of the climate crisis has given rise to games that are more about living with disaster than exploring its aftermath. As regards The Eternal Cylinder, that means thriving in the shadow of a steamroller the width of the horizon, guiding a troupe of elephant-nosed creatures called Trebhum through a wonderful alien ecosystem that is being steadily reduced to paste.
The Trebhum, which you’ll control individually with the rest of the herd tumbling behind, are neither lovers nor fighters. All they can do to begin with is hoover up and store objects for later consumption, spray water from their trunks and roll around like Sonic the Hedgehog. But they do have one critical advantage, and that is their capacity for change. By eating the right things, from grasshopper dung to fish, they can acquire mutations such as third eyes and furry skins that (mostly) equip them to weather the trials ahead.
A vivid but slightly unfulfilling getaway story from the punchdrunk creators of Zeno Clash, The Eternal Cylinder mixes moments of frenzy with indefinite periods of contemplation. The game’s colossal antagonist doesn’t chase you relentlessly. Its approach is sometimes blocked by towers that dome their surroundings in shimmering blue energy, creating an oasis where you can forage, toy with mutations and delve into ruins that house basic platforming challenges, together with lore and rarer consumables.
(Image credit: Good Shepherd Entertainment)
A larger issue is that The Eternal Cylinder is on some level a basic upgrade-a-thon pretending to be something weirder. Once you acclimatise to the aesthetic, the mutations are surprisingly dull. Some are one-shot-wonders—you can cubify your Trebhum to serve as door keys, or plug in sucker feet to stop them being blown off windy platforms during shrine puzzles. Others are exotic rehashes of staple moves from other games: recurved knees for a higher jump, balloon stomachs for gliding, incremental boosts to water absorption or stamina. Least inspiring of all is the one that lets you manufacture a crystal currency with which to buy generic stamina and health upgrades from shrines. Cosmic bulldozers be damned: there’s always time for shopping.
While occasional losses and devolutionary encounters with the Cylinder’s servants encourage you to mix things up, you’re eventually able to make certain mutations permanent. As such, the whimsy and playfulness of the early game gives way to a steady process of optimisation, your herd solidifying into a business-like apparatus of walking bomb-factories and Far Cry-style resource detectors. Less useful or actively hindersome mutations such as disco skin or eye stalks that impair vision are left by the wayside.
You could regard the growing emphasis on efficiency as a provocation. How much of this world’s diversity, even the less immediately helpful elements, can you preserve in the bodies of the Trebhum as you hurry to survive? But it feels more like the game is succumbing to genre conventions than posing such a challenge. While an often-visionary piece of work, The Eternal Cylinder is a few mutations short of brilliance.
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