Developer Ace Team has been no stranger to exploring some pretty weird concepts in its 12-year run. Arguably its most notable title, Rock of Ages coupled together tower defence and racing mechanics, and its debut project Zeno Clash was a hybrid of first-person shooter and beat em' up tropes. Its latest release The Eternal Cylinder is another equally curious genre-spanning hybrid that at times feels like a strange cross between Spore and Zelda. Recently, I was fortunate enough to check out the game ahead of its open beta (which is available now) and I was able to sink three hours into its first biome.
In The Eternal Cylinder, you play as a race of adorable alien creatures known as Trebhum, who are on the run from a giant Cylinder that crushes everything within its path. With the Cylinder threatening to devastate all life around you, it's up to you and your Trebhum buddies to explore the procedurally generated world to try and put a stop to its onslaught. Its survival narrative is a simple one, but it's brought to life by a humorous narrator who chimes in on occasion to offer some backstory and point you in the right direction.
The gameplay forces you to stay on the move as the Cylinder is slowly creeping up behind you and destroying where you previously visited. The planet that you're on is split into different zones with an ancient tower within the middle of each. Once you pass through this tower it can stop the roll of the Cylinder, but once you move beyond it and into the next zone, the Cylinder will once again topple towards you. Each zone you enter is procedurally generated with its layout, enemies, and food sources being randomised every time you play.
Across your journey, you'll come across several temples that contain the planet's elders and it's up to you to scale the challenges ahead to try and locate them. These temples act almost like Shrines in The Legend of Zelda, as they feature some basic puzzle and platforming sections for you to conquer. Whilst these sections didn't feel too challenging, I did still appreciate how they introduced yet another gameplay style into the mix, and it was fun that they required me to mutate my Trebhum in certain ways to be able to progress.
Along with the Cylinder that's capable of turning you into a pancake, there are also some light survival mechanics for you to keep an eye on. You'll need to stay hydrated and well fed by sucking food up with your trunk, and you'll need to be wary of environmental hazards such as scorching desert sands. What's good here is that by feeding one Trebhum you replenish the hunger levels of your whole party, but I did, however, find my levels to drop quickly. Having to keep roaming and sucking up random plants and small creatures wasn't particularly fun, and it proved just to be a distraction from the main objective.
There's also some pretty fierce looking alien life that'll try to make you their next meal. One predator we encountered was essentially just a giant pair of teeth on legs and another was an elephant-like creature that spewed out toxic liquid. The designs of these creatures are truly fantastic, but I did find that some of the larger ones would obstruct my view during chases and this led to some pretty unfair deaths. Fortunately though, death is not too punishing as you can either respawn from the last checkpoint, manual save, or autosave.
Perhaps the most interesting mechanic at play here is that your Trebhum can mutate by consuming specific items, and this changes their appearance and gives them new abilities.
You can mutate each Trebhum within your group differently too, so that you have a balance of some that are better at combat and others that are better at exploration and platforming. One mutation I obtained, for example, turned my Trebhum lucid green so that it could glow in the dark and another gave it a balloon-like body to enable it to float through the air. There are over 50 of these mutations and playing around with them proved to be an absolute joy.
The Eternal Cylinder's innovative take on the survival genre is one that I can't wait to return to when it makes a full release. What it offers is a unique hybrid of styles, as it encompasses elements of platforming and puzzle solving, and its Spore-like mutation mechanic offers plenty of depth. I did, however, encounter some difficulties with the camera, and I found its survival mechanics to feel a little tedious. Despite these flaws though, I am still very much excited for its eventual release sometime later this year.
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