The Eternal Cylinder arrives with a much different focus from the life simulation God-complex predecessor but felt like I was transported all the way back to the 2008 version of myself given the adorable blobby species you willfully mutate. With more emphasis on survival-lite mechanics and story-centric exploration, Cylinder delivers with the intrigue and wondrous emotion of charting through an unknown world. Just like Spore though, I can’t say I had as much fun actually playing it as I imagine many others will.
Thus begins the odyssey of The Eternal Cylinder and the tiny trebhum who dwell in its shadow–one of the most unique games I’ve experienced. The concept is fascinating, and the story and world are brought to life with spectacular visual designs and soaring, memorable moments. They’re also weighed down by overbearing narration and an excessive array of systems.
What I didn’t expect was how much fun it’d be to find my way around this fantastic, grotesque alienscape. I mean, I didn’t come in expecting to have a bad time, I just figured there might be some frustrating moments given all of the genre elements in play.
Straight up, this is one of the freshest games of 2021. I’m so glad I had time for it.
Early in the game, resources are plentiful so it actually felt like these systems weren’t particularly necessary. As you progress to the mid-game resource options become more limited, water reserves less plentiful and the number of hazards increase, providing a gradual upscaling of difficulty, which is good. The one area it floundered was in the desert biome, where finding food, water or the heat-resistant plant became a massive chore and unbearably tedious. It was manageable, but this area felt too punishing in multiple ways to actually be fun to endure, effectively encouraging you to get through it as efficiently and quickly as possible.
The narration also leads to frequent simplistic telling in place of rich showing. Don’t say “the trebhum felt sad.” Give the little guys some personality and let them shine in the important moments! The trebhum don’t emote though, which robs them of emotional depth. Simply stating the emotion as “sad” also removes any nuance or ambiguity. The Eternal Cylinder clearly understands the power of ambiguity. It doesn’t get lost in dumping lore or overexplain the background and details of the Cylinder itself. Instead, it lets you experience the Cylinder rather than presume something so strange can be expressed in words at all. I think the Eternal Cylinder should have taken a similar approach to more of the storytelling involving the trebhum and their quests.
The sound design, and especially the ominous soundtrack, which is so memorable in so many ways, is spot-on. It elevates the whole experience. Even though The Eternal Cylinder falls into an identifiable and almost-too-repetitive cycle, the threat always feels real.
If, however, you enjoy experiences that immerse you in a universe with plenty to explore and discover just for the sake of being in that world, you’ll have a much longer and rewarding time. Oddly, given the nature of the cylinder, it’s a game that suits those who like to slow everything down and get lost in the possibilities of what’s out there just because they can. Eternal Cylinder won’t reward or punish you for either approach, the enjoyment will come from your own sense of satisfaction. Luckily, the story and aesthetic are good enough to keep the former type of player invested to the end of its deeply unique and well-told tale.
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