The Eternal Cylinder is from ACE Team who have established themselves as the go-to game developer if you really want to play something totally unique and visually striking. Their modus operandi is taking familiar game design elements and blending them with other genres or putting them on their head. This is something we especially found when doing our The Eternal Cylinder review.
Compounded with ACE Team’s signature visual style, it is a good chance that their games are not like anything else offered. Their Rock of Ages trilogy melded tower-defense with Super Monkey Ball style course-running, all while having a Monty Python flavor. They even managed to do an ActRaiser spiritual successor with Sol Seraph before Square Enix, and achieved it with their own unique style.
From their Zeno Clash games that combined first person action with beat em-up gameplay to their bizarre take on metroidvania games with The Tower of Deadly Monsters, ACE Team can guarantee something unique every time. What would this developer do with a survival game mechanics? Combine them with adventure game elements set on a primordial alien world, naturally. Read on to find out in our The Eternal Cylinder review!
The Eternal Cylinder
Developer: ACE Team Software S.A.
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (reviewed)
Release Date: September 30, 2021
Price: $29.99 USD
The Eternal Cylinder is a very odd game, not just by how it looks- but also how it plays and what its about. At first the premise is centered on strange creatures called Trebhums and their arduous survival from being crushed under the cylinder. As events unfold and more of the bizarre lore is explained, the fight for survival is one of tragedy with allusions to humankind’s own evolution.
Terbhum genetics are extremely malleable and will mutate based on whatever they consume. This becomes crucial to their adaptability if they hope to outrun a smothering fate. These creatures resemble what happens when Oddworld meets Qbert meets The Muppets and even though they are small omnivores; they prove to be the best species out of all the weird creatures on the planet.
The absurdity of these things having a culture is like a cosmic joke; yet they manage to have ancient temples built by their ancestors. Later in the story, it makes a lot more sense and given the completely surreal and utterly alien setting, the premise of Trebhums being intelligent is the least surprising plot point in the scenario.
The cylinder itself is a character. More than just an endless log, it does think and even has minions who serve it. These servants are vaguely human-like and feature haggard mechanical features. Some of them look like a rusty car with human arms and legs. The design and behavior of these things are unsettling and imply that they might have actually been human at some point.
The player assumes the role of a newborn Trebhum and must immediately adapt to survive. Eating certain creatures or plants will cause a mutation like growing long legs, webbed feet or becoming box-like. Some mutations will be beneficial; like gaining a third eye to reveal secrets. Other mutations are a handicap; like losing legs and even becoming a ball.
On top of trying to find the correct mutations for the right situation, Trebhums must sustain themselves to stay alive. Food and water are staples to all living things. Luckily, Trebhums don’t need to stay close to a watering hole or where a fruit grove is because they can store some limited items in their gullet.
Trying to stay alive with limited resources is the cornerstone of any survival game. The Eternal Cylinder uses a creative take on a “lives” mechanic by having each life represented by the party size of traveling Trebhums that the player has acquired while exploring. Some Trebhums won’t join so easily; some may be sick or injured and will require an item to recruit.
This is how the limited inventory is utilized in The Eternal Cylinder. Carrying around power-ups, food, or a key-item is inevitable but Trebhums can only carry a couple of accoutrements and they stack with a very low cap. While finding a curative for any wayward Trebhum, players will inevitably have to drop something they may not want to lose; forcing them into making a hard choice.
Keeping a full party of Terbhum is necessary for survival. If the player-controlled Trebhum dies, then the user assumes the role of any living Trebhum in the party. Other times, players will want to switch out who they control since keeping the creatures’ mutations varied among the party will make traversal quick and easy.
Thankfully, any non-controlled Trebhum will automatically follow. This cuts the need to move each one individually through any puzzle areas and restricts repetition to a bare minimum.
The Eternal Cylinder is often pitched as an “open-world” survival game. While there are certainly survival mechanics, the world of The Eternal Cylinder is anything but open. At best, this is a wide-linear action-adventure game, with an extra emphasis on linearity.
Moving forward is one of the main focuses of The Eternal Cylinder. This is emphasized by its main gameplay gimmick; the actual eternal cylinder. This enigmatic structure crushes and annihilates everything it rolls over. Nothing can survive it and it also serves as a metaphor for Darwinism; anything that is unable to evolve or adapt to escape it, is doomed.
Running away from the cylinder is exhilarating and tense. Its length reaches far off into the distance with no end in sight. Since the environments are large and varied with terrain and platforms, escape can be a challenge. This is especially the case if players find themselves running along a peninsula and didn’t evolve webbed feet to win across to dry land.
Even though the cylinder is eternal, even it needs to take a break once in a while. To escape a crushing demise, Trebhums have to usually pass through towers that halt the cylinder’s progress. This respite is temporary; the towers that stop this burning monolith from rolling will crumble after specific actions that the player must make to progress.
Sadly, The Eternal Cylinder is very heavily scripted. The rolling pin of ultimate despair will not budge from its place until the player passes a very defined threshold that takes the form of an angry miasma. The idea of The Eternal Cylinder should have been that the doom gradually follows and consumes everything, and staying ahead of it should be on the player.
The cylinder is a set piece that is only a danger when the player activates it. This deflates a lot of the tension that ACE Team was probably aiming for. It feels less like an inevitable wall of death that overtakes the land and feels more like parts of an Uncharted game when Nathan has to run away from a truck.
So long as Trebhums take advantage of the moments when the cylinder is paused, survival is likely. The only other threats are the strange servants of the cylinder and some other indigenous predators. Trebhums are usually quick on their feet so long as they haven’t got a crippling mutation, but combat does become necessary.
Usually encounters follow a basic z-targeting style battle system, but the act of attacking solely depends on if the player’s Trebhum evolved a means to fight back. Some encounters with bosses are more like elaborate puzzles with higher stakes. Overall, getting into scraps proves to be the least interesting aspect of The Eternal Cylinder.
The unbelievable visuals and Salvador Dali-esque art direction make The Eternal Cylinder stand out from other games. The lurid colors and bizarre creature designs make them seem like creatures born from Spore’s creature creator system. The designs of everything in the game will always have qualities that make heads turn.
Despite every animal being completely alien and utterly surreal; there is a great deal of effort put into making each one feel real. Anatomical structures have thought put into them, adding a sense of groundedness and weight into each lifeform.
Personality shines through each design. Some of the fauna seem to have permanent expressions. There is a sense of character in every creature- including the uncanny servants of the cylinder. Fur and flesh have been realized thoroughly, which adds authenticity and believability.
The landscape manages to impress more than anything- especially when there is a glowing and forbidding cylinder on the horizon. Every stick of flora on this planet is rotten with organic properties and uncomfortably detailed textures and bump mapping. The vastness of these vistas go a long way at making the setting look and feel larger than it really was.
The Eternal Cylinder is a surreal and colorful fever dream that isn’t without a sense of humor. The narrator is a character in itself and serves multiple roles during the course of the story. His comments and giddiness towards the Trebhum are infectious. He is like a conscience and the voice of the Trebhum’s instincts.
Sadly, The Eternal Cylinder suffers from diminished returns. This is a very story focused game despite that it is marketed as an open-world game. Story and survival come first and since it concentrates on telling a scripted narrative, The Eternal Cylinder has low replay value. After completing the game, there is very little reason to ever replay it, outside of the story.
The gameplay’s novelty may not hold up upon scrutiny on subsequent playthroughs, but that first time playing The Eternal Cylinder is not something that anyone will forget easily. Anyone who enjoys survival gameplay but also wants a directed narrative experience will certainly find a lot to enjoy, but gamers who want to take their time and play at their own pace may become frustrated.
The Eternal Cylinder was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a copy provided by Good Shepard Entertainment. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. The Eternal Cylinder is available for Windows PC (via Epic Games Store), Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.