Endling: Extinction is Forever review: Climate disaster from a fox’s POV

0

Comment

Endling: extinction is eternal

Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Developer: Herobeat Studios | Editor: HandyGames

Here’s a sobering fact: Scientists estimate that over 99% of all living species that have ever existed have been eradicated from Earth. That’s at least 5 billion (5,000,000,000!) cash. Beyond this cold and seemingly abstract statistic, however, there are countless stories of loss – forest habitats and ocean depths, once teeming with activity, have become barren and eerily lifeless.

I imagine scenes such as those of immense turbulence and despair, followed by an unsettling, silent void. “Endling: Extinction is Forever” focuses on this mental image, depicting these moments with surprising intimacy through the eyes of a small family: that of a mother fox and her four pups.

The game’s opening quickly sets the tone for its story with a scene of painful destruction: a catastrophic forest fire engulfs acres of land at a terrifying rate, while crazed forest animals flee. As an expectant mother fox, you will have to seek shelter from the flames as you navigate through the destruction. You can swerve left and right through a scorched landscape, peek at firefighters working to put out the blaze, dig under fallen logs, climb charred trees and man-made structures, and jump over- above the gaps of collapsed bridges. Eventually, you will find refuge in a small cave, collapsed to the ground from a mixture of exhaustion and relief. Giving birth to a litter of four adorable puppies – each with their own unique stripe of coat coloring and spots – a deep maternal instinct awakens within you. You are presented with something so insufferably valuable to protect; you must keep them alive at all costs.

But it can be an extremely strenuous exercise, at least at first. “Endling” is a game of survival, and a big part of the experience is foraging for food to feed your puppies before returning to the safety of your den. To complete the game, you’ll need to survive while keeping your babies well fed for a certain number of days until the final rolls around. One way to find food is to hunt small prey – mice, fish and rabbits – but wildlife is extremely rare. You’ll have more luck foraging for berries or rummaging through carelessly discarded trash bags for leftovers, though these aren’t particularly nutritious.

Review: ‘Stray’, a game in which you play a cute cat, is a meow-masterpiece

At the same time, there is very little resource management involved; you can only live day to day. When you manage to sink your teeth into any morsel, be it fresh hunting or leftover trash, you can only carry what you can hold in your jaw until you go home to feed your puppies. This means you won’t be able to store tons of food for later use. In a way, survival in “Endling” is simple – you just need to find enough food for your puppies to last through the night. But the consequence of not being able to feed them is just as simple: they won’t last the night. It’s a sad reality that I found particularly difficult to accept. During my first game, I lost one of my puppies to starvation. It took a tremendous amount of willpower not to reset the whole race and start from scratch.

Also, while many survival games use roguelike elements, it’s crucial to point out that “Endling” is not one of them. As a fox, you won’t “level up” with every lost pup, or gain new abilities to better protect them. It’s not a traditional video game, where you get stronger, faster and more powerful as you progress. “Endling” trades that fantasy for realism.

It’s a bittersweet point that “Endling” reinforces not only through its title – it’s called “Extinction Is Forever” for a reason – but also in the multitude of dangers your family will encounter. Predators like owls will swoop down to take your pups away. Greedy poachers will want to lay their dirty hands on it. Then there are Steel Leg Traps, which are hidden in plain sight to trap you when you’re momentarily distracted by other threats. Fall into these traps too often and you will inevitably bleed to death. All of these obstacles arise when you are chasing one of your puppies, which was captured by a hunter at the start of the game. You will have to find out where he is by following his scent on the map.

If there’s anything incongruous about the gloomy tone of the tale, it’s that the injuries the fox sustains are mostly temporary, as long as you don’t get hurt too often. Even the death of the fox will simply result in an overhaul from the start of the day (although the loss of your puppies is still irreversible). As a result, death can sometimes become a way out of a sticky situation, such as when you’ve strayed too far from your lair, into dangers that are too tedious to overcome. It’s an aspect of the game that could have benefited from a more traditional roguelike structure, in which you’re forced to start a new run when the fox encounters its demise.

And yet, “Endling’s” overall sense of doom is mitigated by small but genuine moments of joy and compassion. You may see your puppies experiencing winter for the first time, thrilled by the blanket of snow surrounding them. You can proudly watch your puppies grow from their harrowing experiences as they learn to walk through high walls, jump over gaps in the ground, and squeeze through small spaces in search of more food. And located at certain parts of the map is a young refugee named Molly, who offers your puppies food and respite from the harsh realities of survival in “Endling.” When everything seems so unbearably hellish, seeing a friendly, outstretched hand is a welcome reprieve.

Things are starting to improve a bit. You can tell, intuitively, where and how to find more food. Your puppies are a little better fed. You learn to avoid danger by crouching a little lower, softening your steps so predators and humans can’t hear you.

Can virtual nature be a good substitute for wide open spaces? Science says yes.

But “Endling” never forgets the horrors of habitat destruction and the unpredictable and destructive nature of climate change. Despite the game’s cel-shaded splendor, the dark and daunting atmosphere can inspire feelings bordering on emotional fatigue. You’ll meander through scenes of empty forests and metal factories, with rampant logging, encroaching deforestation efforts, and gloomy visions of faceless workers tinkering with machinery looming in the background. Any human who sees you wants you gone or dead. There aren’t many wildlife either. The few remaining species can barely survive amid smoldering refineries and ecological ruin.

“Endling” isn’t the kind of game you might settle for after a long day of social media doomscrolling; it’s the kind that forces you to confront the monstrous scale and toll of human activity on the ecosystem and the planet. And yet, even as a deeply apocalyptic look at what looks like the impending end of our world, the game’s deep pessimism doesn’t stray too far from the truth. Scientists have already warned that we risk losing 20-50% of all species by the end of this century; most of this is due to human activity.

Ultimately, these forces are beyond comprehension of a small family of foxes trying to survive in their harsh and changing environment. Their ordeals remind us that we are not so far from a traumatic future where fragile ecosystems will continue to break down and rising sea levels will devour entire continents. What will happen to our home – and the billions of animals – if we continue to stick to a diet that ruthlessly pollutes and depletes our natural resources, warming the planet until it becomes an envelope unlivable? To have a chance of surviving, these creatures will move on and abandon everything in search of a more livable home. They may not find any. And they are unlikely to survive these long, arduous nights.

Khee Hoon Chan is a freelance writer who lives on the internet. You can read more of their pieces hereor ask them about the weather on Twitter @crapstacular.

Share.

Comments are closed.