When it comes to heartfelt games, it’s normally the indie titles that tend to hit the most. Not many big video game publishers want to take a risk on a small scale, yet emotional, project. It happens, but not particularly often.
The messily titled Endling – Extinction is Forever is not only one of those games, but it’s one that hit me particularly hard as an animal lover.
Not only does it work as an emotional experience, the game also plays pretty well too.
Many thanks to HandyGames for the review code.
As the game starts, you’re greeted by flames lapping around your vulpine character. Your goal is clear: escape the flames that are tearing your home apart. With trees falling down and roaring fires blocking your way, it’s going to be a treacherous escape. You make it, of course, but the tearful fox reveals the secret it has been hiding – it’s a vixen on the cusp of childbirth, and the trauma of her escape causes her offspring to be born into this cruel, devastated, world. It’s an extremely beautiful opening, both emotionally and visually, and sets the scene for the story ahead.
As the day passes and the safety of the next night comes around, your goal is to protect and feed your children as they grow up and learn how to fend for themselves; a goal made even more meaningful as one of your cubs get snatched by a poacher at the start of the game. With three other babies to feed and protect, as well as a fourth that you need to track down, it’s not going to be an easy journey. As the world gets increasingly more hostile, you’re left to deal with other humans and animals – comprising of friends, foes, and food. It’s rather depressing, but it works well – mainly due to the breathtaking visuals of this dark, polluted, horrible world and the haunting soundtrack that accompanies you on your difficult journey.
ON THE HUNT
Despite being narratively focused, the game itself is a survival game of sorts. In order to take care of your cubs, you need to spend each day scouring the world for food sources to feed your children. There are fruit bushes you can use to replenish a little bit of their hunger, or you can catch wild animals by sneaking up and pouncing on them, Food sources are somewhat limited throughout the game, and later on you’ll find it much harder to obtain things. It’s not exactly something you particularly need to manage, however, since new food sources tend to appear every so often – but you should still take care not to eat everything to ensure there’s enough for tomorrow.
As a mother, you’ll also need to teach your cubs key skills that will help them traverse the environment and also obtain additional out-of-reach food sources. This is where most of the exploration comes into play as certain events will result in your cubs learning certain skills. For example, in one area of the map your cub will fall into a rat cage and will have to learn to fend itself against an attack from the angry rodent within. One QTE later, and your cub will have learnt how to hunt, which can be useful to help catch smaller critters.
Your cubs limited moveset will also determine where you can access as a group. As a skilled Vixen, you may be able to reach certain places that your offspring cannot. You’re free to wander off as you please, but at the risk of your children getting lost or killed. Oh yes, they can absolutely be killed. Predators, both animal and human, are lying in wait ready to attack your family. They can be fended off if you are healthy enough to do so, but failure will result in a permanent death – unless you close the game and reload like I did: I don’t want a dead fox cub on my conscience, thankyouverymuch!
It all sounds rather stressful, but it’s not as bad as it seems. Both the world and consequences of failure are certainly rather anxiety inducing, but all you need to do is take a little care and you’ll probably be fine. In fact, that is the one real issue with the game: the veil behind its repetition falls far too easily. At first you’ll explore and try to find your way forward as you scour for food supplies, but then you realise that events are set to certain days. Plot related days will reveal a purple scent upon leaving your lair, which you will then need to follow to advance the story; every other day simply requires you to get a bit of food to deal with the hunger, and then explore for additional skills if you want. There are some side events that will trigger the ‘best’ ending that you can look out for, but you’ll still find yourself doing the bare minimum after a while.
Even though this repetition can spoil the gameplay part of the game, the main point of the game is its narrative and seeing the home around you fall to shit as the humans destroy it bit by bit. It’s an important and powerful message, and quite a sad one too. Whilst it seems like a ‘humans are bad’ plotline early on, it does give the characters extra depth as you realise not all of them are monsters. It’s really well done, and the lack of voice acting only helps demonstrate what a good job they did with the environmental worldbuilding in Endling.
Endling – Extinction is Forever is a powerful game with a strong environmental message from the perspective of a vulpine protagonist caring for her children. The haunting soundtrack compliments the frankly traumatising theme well, and leaves you feeling somewhat downhearted after each play session. It may prove too much for more empathetic gamers, but it’s still a game that’s worthy of your attention.