There is something about seeing a world covered in snow, where you are lost underground in the darkness with creatures trying to kill you, that makes you feel glad that you are in your warm living room watching the story unfold in comfort, all with a brandy by your side. That is the same feeling here, as you need to be prepared for hardship if you are going to be playing Unto The End. It’s a journey that will take you deep into the cold, hard world of swords, creatures, and deadly traps. But does it make you want to embrace the wilderness, or give up and wait for the darkness to engulf you?
I want to be honest from the start – Unto The End is a hard and tricky game to play. It can at times be heartless, ruthless and a sod to love, but at all times there is something wonderful about it; something that makes you want to try and try and try again. The game’s story is told without any words and cutscenes and you immediately find yourself starting things off in the game’s overworld, by a beautiful tree. You play a warrior/hunter man set in a time where swords were the equivalent of an iPhone and basic straw housing was a necessity. This man leaves his family behind, and goes hunting for deer. He ends up chasing said deer before falling down a huge hole in the ground, ending up lost and desperately trying to get back home. That’s Unto The End…
I love a good tale told, no matter if that is through visuals rather than text or voice-over. Unto The End excels here, providing gameplay moments that are chock full of atmosphere, frequented by unusual characters, and spread across great locations. From minute one to the end, I have loved this world and it’s been a tremendous pleasure to spend some time in it, as harsh as it can feel.
Gameplay-wise Unto The End is very close to Another World in its style, all whilst reminding one of the original Prince of Persia. But for all the glory it brings, it’s also at times relentlessly difficult, and you will need to be prepared to die tens, if not hundreds, of times. It’s a game that rewards both patience and a level of skill that was needed for success back in the day of retro gaming, as you move around the landscapes, jumping chasms, climbing up ledges, picking up objects and utilising the inventory in place.
It all works a style that has a mixture of exploration and survival elements. For example, you have a torch that you can craft from the inventory and it is pretty much impossible to survive in Unto the End without this, as the caves and underground areas are mostly dark. But it’s also super easy to drop this torch – or your sword for that matter – especially should you roll into something or jump too heavily on the ground. You’ll not want to do this, because it’s not just tricky to navigate the darkness without light, but it’s also extremely difficult to find your lost items; when you have herbs, skins, and bones to bring together, to craft or upgrade amour, scrabbling around in the pitch black is no fun.
There are traps galore in Unto The End too; falling, decaying lifts and lethal triggered traps will kill you instantly as you happen upon them. However, the other main element of the game is found in the combat. This is deep and tactical, however it’s nice that Unto The End provides access to a swift tutorial on how to fight, utilising a flashback sequence where you see yourself having a training session with your wife by your home. For the most part the combat is quite a tricky affair, and it takes a while to understand the mix of techniques required, working mid and strong attacks, counter moves, blocks, and rolls. It’s a system that may put newcomers off, as it all takes a while to get used to things, but when you begin to understand that it’s a real test of skill, reflexes and combat management all combined, you will discover joy. Don’t be surprised if it frustrates though; there are moments where you’ll just want to give up or throw the controller across the room. Honestly, I’ve found myself spending far too long in some of the combat sections on the verge of winning, just before succumbing to a mortal wound. You see, if you don’t heal yourself you will eventually die, but in the same tact you can’t save until the bleeding stops, which makes the whole process painfully hard. Too painful at times.
It’s this brutal combat and fighting mechanic that will dictate whether you fall in love with Unto The End, or are left hating it. Personally I’ve found the whole process too frustrating for utter enjoyment, with one hit kills from a spear or fights where the torch would get knocked out of my hand ensuring it’s a struggle to see what’s going on, delivering pretty much instant death. It’s a tricky bit of game, but I guess that’s what the development team are wanting you to experience, challenging you to the limit.
For the test in skill though, visually the game looks brilliant with its colour pallete and visual tones delivering a delightful world. It’s a beautiful landscape when outside, from the autumn leaves of the flashback sequences to the snowy, harsh winter of the present. Head underground and the world takes another turn: it’s full of danger and intrigue, yet brilliantly designed. The characters, world design, and universe as a whole is somewhere I could gladly spend more time in, just wandering around, exploring. The audio aspects are equally as superb with great effects, sound design, and a wonderful score.
Unto The End on Xbox is a game that you’re going to either utterly love or will find just too difficult to play. Fans of old school titles like Another World and Prince of Persia will like the tricky elements and challenges that have you trying again and again. But it’s a brutal world that brings all this together; one full of traps, death, and mystery, and I would personally have liked to be able to explore a little more without the constant threat of death and danger. It’s also fairly annoying that losing the torch and being plunged into darkness has such an effect on the overall experience. However, Unto The End is an important release, and a highly intriguing game from a very talented team of game designers – I look with interest to what they will be attempting next.