There are times, when you load up a game for the very first time, that you will know exactly what to expect. The right trigger will action the shooting mechanics, the A button will see you jump and the Y button with switch weapons. Most games follow a very familiar pattern in how they are presented to the gamer; FPS shooters, looting and leveling up RPGs and every Battle Royale game ever. Yet every now and then a game pops up that defies all that has come before it, treading its own path. The Eternal Cylinder is one of those games – a game that is unlike anything I’ve played in the last few years. It’s a game that has surprised me, charmed me, and frightened me – all in one big hit.
The Eternal Cylinder is from ACE Team, those behind the likes of Rock of Ages and Zeno Clash, but it is here where they have made one of the most truly innovative and weird games of the last few years.
The premise is strange but I’ll try my best to explain. You are a small race of alien creatures called Trebhums. You start the game in an egg, being born as one of them, letting you name them as you like. As they go out into the world they are faced with a problem. A huge cylinder is behind them, destroying everything in its path as it moves across the world. There is nothing you can do to stop it, except to freeze it for a short while by activating towers across the land. When this happens you get the chance to explore the area around you.
Here your Trebhums can jump, roll and hoover up food and minerals, making the most of a long snout. Your aim is to rescue other Trebhums so you start to have a family of them at your disposal, switching between them on the go. You see the problem to start with is that these cute little Trebhums are adorable and you will love them like your own; especially once you begin to name them after loved ones. But they are weak and all manner of other life forms on the planets want to kill them. And if it’s not that, then they will be destroyed by environmental disasters; toxic fog or electrical storms created by the cylinder.
In order to survive they must evolve, but to evolve, you must explore, gathering extra abilities that will transform your little alien friends, mostly by eating things you find on the surface or in secret cave areas that you explore. These could include the ability to make a large sound, or snort fire, or unlock doorways or even to jump higher. There are many different possibilities, yet all are fun and creative.
You will lose Trebhums – that’s a fact – but it’ll be up to you to help as many survive as possible, keeping them fed and watered. Each area that you stop in is filled with things to explore and The Eternal Cylinder never gets boring, as it has a knack of allowing you to try new things all of the time. The cave and dungeon areas are filled with more narrative and story, as well as puzzles to complete, alongside some tricky platforming. There are also areas where you can level up your abilities, building on hunger levels or letting you have more companions on your travels.
Honestly, it’s tricky explaining how The Eternal Cylinder works, but once you’re playing through it, it all makes complete sense. But, whilst the overall experience has worked for me, there’s a chance that the mixture of open-world and linear drive caused by the cylinder might annoy some. If you can put that to one side, you’ll get the chance to revel in the tension that this huge world breaker is able to deliver.
The visuals remind of something you might find in a kid’s cartoon show from the 1980s. There are some brilliant creature and world designs, full of colour, danger, and mystery. The eternal cylinder itself, burning red as it crushes everything from trees to buildings in its path, is something so terrifying you just want to stop and watch. But you really should be running instead.
The sound design is excellent as well, from the brilliant score, to the narrator bringing it together and off to the amazing effects – from the alien noises to the cylinder churning itself. It’s all delivered with gravitas and sincerity throughout.
If I had to pick some nits with The Eternal Cylinder then it could be said that the camera annoys at times, especially in the more action-orientated sequences where it never seems to be in the right place. And perhaps ditching the survival elements of food and water wouldn’t be a bad thing, mostly as they don’t add a great deal to the game.
But overall this is a truly original piece of gaming; an experience full of creative invention, brilliant premise, and the most terrifying piece of world-destroying machinery ever – The Eternal Cylinder.
You can grab The Eternal Cylinder from the Xbox Store for Xbox