STAFF REVIEW of Endling - Extinction is Forever (Xbox One)

Tuesday, July 19, 2022.
by Peggy Doyle

Endling - Extinction is Forever Box art The moment of Extinction is classified as the time in which the last individual of a species dies. The last of a species in existence is referred to as the ‘Endling’. This is all the information you really need to understand that Endling – Extinction is Forever will not be a lighthearted and easy game to play. Created by Spanish developers, Herobeat Studios, and published by HandyGames from Germany, this side scrolling adventure opens with you (as a female fox) running for your life as the world is burning around you. You find safety in a makeshift den and immediately give birth to a litter of four adorable babies (kits). You are no longer the Endling of your species, but the story is just beginning.

At the heart of Endling – Extinction is Forever there is a survival game. It was designed to examine how extinction is one of the most dramatic, and heartbreaking, consequences of human activity. Due to humans’ actions, centuries of harm and destruction to the planet, the Earth is in crisis and withering. Mass deforestation has occurred, resulting in a lack of food, water and habitat for the Vixen and her kits. This was all clear when I took on the review, and I am considered a bit of a ‘tree hugger’ by many people, so I was intrigued if it could deliver an eco-conscious message while also delivering an engaging gameplay experience.

You and your babies wander the world during the night looking for food while returning to your den during the less safe daytime hours. Day one was relatively uneventful but on the first night of rest, a horrible trapper steals one of your babies. An endangered animal sighting would be rare and would likely go for a pretty hefty sum of money. Now your days are following spent following clues to track your missing baby while also still trying to find food for your three remaining ones. Add on to this that your babies are clumsy and can get caught or injured from misadventure or predators, and you are also being hunted by local human scavengers, it’s a lot of emotions at play during the 4-5 hour game time. Although primarily a 2D side scroller, the world does open in ways that have you moving in almost a 3D plane. This also means I had to refer to the map quite often to make sure I wasn’t getting lost to heading to a dead end.

I found the survival aspect of the game stressful at times. There is a meter at the bottom of the screen indicating hunger of your little ones. If the bar gets too low, one of their cute little white face icons starts to flash red and the red drains from their face as they get hungrier and slower. You can abandon them if you choose to. Survival of the fittest as some say. They can even die in the game. In fact, there are achievements depending on how many of you are alive at the end. The stress levels involved in finding food, prey, fruit or even garbage, often made my heart race. I was determined to keep every single one of them alive.

To find food you tap a single button to sniff and you’ll get a green trail indicating food. You have to crouch, sneak and pounce on rabbits, mice, fish or chickens to catch them. You can climb trees to discover eggs, or hop into bushes to retrieve fruit and berries. You can even scavenge through garbage. This becomes tricky though, because at times you’ll get a plastic bag wrapped around your neck and have a limited time to stop it from killing you. Between the garbage, the predators, the hunters and trappers (with traps spread out throughout the map), there are multiple ways for you and your family to be killed. Oh, and if you die, your cubs won’t survive without you. If this occurs, you’re presented with giant letters on the screen telling you this fact. Heart wrenching. You can reload the game from the last save point which is when you have last rested.

As you move through the map, some areas will be locked until you complete a certain number of days. Once a new section opens you can find a new den/home base, but you can still go to older parts of the map if you choose. There are even a few badger tunnels for quick travel. Also, as you progress the days, you will track your missing baby, and on each day that there are clues available there will be three to find. Each clue location opens a ‘shadow scene’ where you see the story of what your baby has been going through. You see who took them and what has been happening in their timeline. It’s really not an easy thing to watch if you are emotionally invested. It is almost impossible to talk about this story line without spoiling the game, so I’ll not say much other than you can find your missing baby.

There is a night and day cycle in the game, and you have limited amounts of hours at night to track clues, find food and unravel the story/map before having to return to your den for the daytime hours. As time progresses, your kids age, becoming more self sufficient and they will learn new skills to help you. You can send them into small openings or climb up trees to help gather food. And they’ll also learn to jump higher distances, run faster, etc. Each kit will be assigned one of the skills learned. I am not sure exactly what happens if you lose one of them, if the skill will transfer to another for example, because if I’m being honest, the two times I lost a cub I searched out a hunter or trap to kill me so I could start the day again and have a second chance. This game was emotionally all encompassing for me.

The art direction in Endling – Extinction is Forever is simple and beautiful. The designs made it easy to hate the bad humans and love the adorable fox family. The way they interacted with each other felt truly authentic and heartwarming. This made any pain, discomfort stress, etc. that they had to deal with even harder to digest for me. The soundtrack was subtle but impactful and helped great an emotional connection in the way it would swell in stressful or dramatic moments.

One thing I did find lacking in the game were some accessibility features. Most noticeably you had to tap buttons repeatedly to dig or escape from traps for example. Giving the option to single tap and/or hold the button would be an effortless way to open this game up to more players. I would have also liked to see more variety in the dangers presented in game. They became repetitive and predictable quickly. The gameplay was also rather simplistic, but I’m assuming this was to not distract from the story being told.

Although there are some extremely heartbreaking moments in the game, and I found myself ugly crying during parts of it, Herobeat Studios created a beautiful game with cute foxes and a really important message. I have not been this emotionally moved by a game in a long time. Many of the things shown in game are based on current real-world events, and a lot of it was hard to stomach. Enthusiastic social commentary, a compelling story and beautiful graphics really gave me something I wasn’t expecting from a game with cute foxes at the forefront. Even with the slightly basic gameplay and repetitive nature, the game (and particularly the ending) hit hard and will leave a lasting mark for some time.

*Endling - Extinction is Forever was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X*

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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