Endling: Extinction is Forever – Review
Follow Genre: Survival game
Developer: Herobeat Studios
Publisher: HandyGames
Platform: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
Tested on: Switch

Endling: Extinction is Forever – Review

Site Score
8.9
Good: A genuinely touching story that delivers a painful message
Bad: Story actually may be too upsetting for a younger audience
User Score
10.0
(1 votes)
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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

If you grew up in the ‘90s, you may remember a cartoon series titled The Animals of Farthing Wood, which was about a group of forest animals driven from their home, looking for a new place to live. The reason that we bring up this show is that Endling: Extinction is Forever, the subject of today’s review, felt rather reminiscent of this source of nostalgic trauma: the show prominently featured a family of foxes aiming to survive mankind’s impact, and the same applies to Endling. This is where the similarities end, however. While the animals of Farthing Wood encountered their fair share of tragedy on their journey, they ultimately found a happy ending. Endling, however, takes the premise in an entirely different direction: this isn’t a happy tale, but as you’ll find out as you read on, it’s definitely one worth checking out.

Story

The full title already gives away that Endling isn’t going to deliver a positive story. Beneath the cute and cuddly exterior of the game lies a heavy message about the negative impact that humanity has on nature and wild animals. The opening scene depicts a wildfire, which forces the inhabitants of the forest out of their homes. One of these animals is our protagonist, an unnamed fox who turns out to be pregnant. Soon enough she gives birth to a foursome of adorable cubs, and it is now up to our fox mom to keep their babies fed and sheltered in an increasingly hostile world. Of note here is that the story is told without words, but it’s heavily implied that our intrepid vulpine heroine isn’t just any fox -but one of the last of her kind, with her offspring being the final remnants of her species. This further puts emphasis on the necessity of her survival, as well as that of the cubs.

Usually, we tend to avoid spoilers, but Endling is one of those rare cases where we are honest about the direction the game takes upfront. The game not having a positive ending is by design, as Endling’s emotional gut punch hopefully stirs players into action in the real world. Endling’s message is a plea for the preservation of nature and the protection of wild animals. It holds a mirror to the player, clearly depicting humans as the villains here, with no redeeming features whatsoever. That said, the way Endling handles things never feels ham-fisted or forced. It’s a hard dose of reality and if you see video games as a way to escape from a harsh world, then Endling isn’t going to be the game you want to end up playing.

Graphics

Despite its heavy themes and confrontational message, Endling is a visual treat. There is beauty to be found even in the way the game shows the destruction of nature, without glorifying it. The 2.5D-ish environments change as you progress through the game, reflecting not just the passing of time but the influence of nature as well. The animal designs are great, and the fox cubs in particular look adorable. The soft colors and paper-like visuals are juxtaposed against the dramatic events that unfold and they actually emphasize the emotional impact of the game’s narrative rather than contrast with it. Of note here is that the interface is kept deliberately clean, with on-screen information as minimal as possible. There is no interface clutter or an overload of menus, just the occasional button prompt, and -when it’s relevant- status icons for the cubs, and a timer indicating how much night time there is left.

Sound

It’s been a while since we last encountered a soundtrack that ties everything together so well as Endlings’ does. The carefully curated tunes are used as a storytelling device, in the absence of words, and they are one of the main ways that emotions are conveyed. It’s hard to describe without experiencing it for yourself, but this is one of the most nuanced and touching soundscapes that we’ve ever encountered while playing a video game. As we mentioned before, there are no words, and thus, no narration, but the sound effects used are perfect as well.

Gameplay

Although Endlings incorporates some light platforming gameplay, at its core it’s a survival game. Of course, being a real-life fox rather than a superhuman being or an anthropomorphized creature means that your abilities are limited and you only have your natural instincts to rely on. Your main task is to ensure the survival of your offspring: every night, you need to venture into the outside world to hunt for food. However, as the influence of mankind spreads, sources of food become more scarce around you. You’ll need to venture further and further into the world, keeping an eye on the timer, because you need to make it back in time to your lair every night before the sun rises.

Early on, one of your cubs is kidnapped by a human as well, and after this happens, you are able to follow scent trails. Doing so allows you a glimpse into what happened with your missing cub, and hopefully finding it. This is an important part of Endling‘s story but ultimately, the main focus is on survival and making choices. Hunting small rodents and fish can be tricky, especially when you’re keeping an eye on the timer, and so this is often not the best option. You could scavenge food from garbage bins but this brings other risks with it. There is no “best” way or linear solution to Endling’s survival -but as the game progresses, the desperation of the fox becomes more palpable. Of note here is that there is no handholding either -apart from an explanation of basic controls, the game never tells you where to go or what to do next, which can be a little frustrating when you have no clue of what your options are, but this is by design and it ties into the bleak situation of the fox.

Endling heavily relies on its emotional impact to resonate with the player. The gameplay might not be anything special, but developer Herobeat Studios strikes the right chord in making you care about this fox family. The game takes every opportunity to make you fall in love with the cubs -to the point where you are tasked with customizing their appearance early on, something that was clearly done to create a connection between the player and the game. From a rational point of view, we understand the psychology behind this and even see through it -but even with that wisdom, it worked like a charm and when we watched the early game cutscene where one of the cubs was taken away, it broke our heart.

It’s Endling’s greatest strength, but it does come with a caveat: this is a game that we wouldn’t recommend for younger children, despite the cute and cuddly appearance -unless you want them to come crying to you, that is. Even adults are going to have a hard time keeping their eyes dry when the credits roll. Endling isn’t a long game, clocking in at roughly five hours from beginning to end, and replay value is limited as there are no branching endings or different strategies to try out, but we still felt that the rich narrative was worth every penny. We felt that Endling succeeded where AWAY: The Survival Series failed. Both games set out with a similar goal but where AWAY bit off more than it could chew, resulting in a sloppy technical mess, Endling‘s minimalistic approach makes for a game with a much greater impact.

Conclusion

What Endling lacks in deep gameplay, it makes up for with its gripping story. This isn’t a subtle tale, as indicated by the full title, and you’ll definitely feel bad when you’re done playing, but we cannot overestimate the importance of its message. This is a game that has the rare ability to deliver a tragic story in a beautiful way and although you won’t get to see a happy ending, you’ll end up seeing a worthwhile one.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Endling: Extinction is Forever - Review, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
SebastiaanRaats


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