Near the start of Endling – Extinction is Forever, the fox you control gives birth to four adorable kits, and you can customise each one by cycling through different skins. It wasn’t until later that I realised what this feature truly achieved — by taking the time to pick how each one looks, they feel more ‘yours’, making it sting a little more when one of them dies. That’s right. Your poor little fox kits can die if you’re not a capable mama fox and don’t ensure they get fed regularly, leaving you to continue the game with fewer mouths to feed.
It turns out I haven’t changed much from my childhood when I would cheat in those retro choose your own adventure books and flip back to the previous page if I made the wrong decision. When one of my cubs died, I booted right back out to the main screen and made sure I prioritised getting my little buddies fed when I reloaded my save. If one came close to death, I quickly learned to carry it so it wouldn’t fall behind, and then I ran to find food as soon as possible.
Keeping them fed is easier said than done. Despite continually having a larger area to explore and more potential food sources and scents to scout, the further I progressed, the food seemed scarcer somehow. Your choices matter and could lead to a nice meal or empty stomachs. Depending on the path you choose to take each night, you might encounter some food, a trap, or a human that snaps your neck. Scavenging in the trash could feed your cubs or result in you getting a plastic bag stuck over your head, threatening to suffocate you. When hunting prey, timing your pounce right could be the difference between saving your cubs from starving or not.
As you explore, you’ll encounter new and more dangerous situations. Other predators will threaten you and your pups and nearly all humans will attack you, with the furrier being a hazardous character to cross as they will chase you down. Getting injured means you can’t move as quickly, nor can you win any other fights, putting you and your family at further risk.
There are also new experiences to be found and fresh places to explore, and you’ll have to learn how to deal with these and change how you behave to make the most of them. Climbing trees is a new way to forage for food, distraction spots can lure the furrier away, barking to scare chickens out of coops can result in a free meal, and creeping through torchlight to avoid being mauled by guard dogs is a must. Most importantly, it’s not just you learning. Your cubs can learn new skills, such as hunting, jumping, climbing, and digging. Each additional skill your cubs earn is a godsend, as there are multiple opportunities to get food that you can only take advantage of if one has the appropriate skill.
With a title like Endling – Extinction is Forever, I knew it wouldn’t be a happy, cutesy game, but I wasn’t prepared for how brutal it would sometimes be. I expected a heart wrenching tale that aimed to teach us about extinction with foxes as the main subject, but I quickly realised that the real focal point here was humanity. This game takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting where humans struggle to survive and are forced to make their own hard choices.
Shortly after your cubs arrive in the world, a mysterious masked man known as the scavenger steals one of them away. Every few days, you can pick up the scent and try to track them down, with each clue left behind giving you a glimpse into what the scavenger is up to. There are plenty of times you’ll even catch up to the scavenger enough to see him in the flesh, but unlike the Mr. X-like furrier who likes to hunt you down with an axe, it only takes one shot from the distant scavenger for it to be game over for you and your family.
Playing Endling gives you the same strangely conflicting mixtures of emotions you get from watching Blue Planet. You sit there appreciating the beauty of nature while facing down the inevitable doom of our planet and how we’re completely fucking it up. It’s not just heart-wrenchingly sad from the foxes’ perspective. Every living creature you meet seems to have a tragic end, which becomes more apparent as you progress through the story.
While the savage moments you witness from your run-ins with humans may put you off going near any of them, there are a few tender moments to be had if you’re brave enough to risk it. I don’t want to spoil the story, but it ensures that things aren’t quite as simple and clear-cut as you might initially think.
It feels weird to call Endling – Extinction is Forever’s brutal tale enjoyable, but it was. The unique survival gameplay from the perspective of a family of foxes combined with the dark themes and storyline is a captivating mix. Though the gameplay can sometimes get repetitive, and it would have been nice to have a broader range of random events to experience, it’s still one of the more interesting games I’ve played recently. Keep a box of tissues nearby, though, as it’ll punch you right in the heart.
Score 3.5/5. A review code for PC was provided by the publisher.
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