The Eternal Cylinder Review
Ace Team has a reputation for bucking trends while proving their imagination goes beyond what you’ll find in most video games today. The Zeno Clash games showed us as much. And now they’re back again with The Eternal Cylinder to break our brains open and ask us have we really seen everything? No, Ace Team, we really haven’t. And I’m sorry for thinking so.
Where to start? I suppose I could begin by describing your antagonist and main threat of the game. That is, of course, the giant cylinder. It is not metaphorical and God I love Ace Team for it. In Eternal Cylinder you play as a small group of creatures known as the Trebhum that must survive on land while being chased by a giant, horizon spanning, red hot metallic cylinder that crushes every single thing in its path.
As a Trebhum it’s your task to escape this molten-hot death roller by running, jumping, rolling and evolving. You see, the Trebhum are tiny blob-like creatures with a big snout and two legs. Like Kirby of Nintendo fame they can suck in a lot of stuff and eat it. Some things they eat this way can change them. Something as helpful as say webbed feet to swim faster. Or maybe something that makes you into a cube so you can unlock a door. There’s a wide variety of stuff to turn into and apart from some ho-hum mutations, it’s mostly a fun addiction to take your small army of Trebhum and start turning them into a mix of hodge-podge capability, complete with gliders, swimmers and gas breathers.
There’s also a lightweight survival mechanic that never bothers too much other than just remembering to feed your crew and make them stay hydrated. They need to stay fast after all.
The gameplay loop mostly consists of you running for your tiny life to a tower as the cylinder rolls over the land, crushing every single tree, pond, critter and mountain in its path. It hates you and you can feel that hatred as you roll your tiny body as fast as you can to get away. Reach a tower and activate in time and you can buy yourself a reprieve. The towers are designed to hold the cylinder and give you access to a wide area in front of them. These moments are for you to explore, solve puzzles, find more tribe members, or mutate before you’re ready to step beyond the blue mist and activate the cylinder once more.
The tension runs high in this world. When the cylinder begins to roll, I cannot understate the excitement and the stress you’ll feel as you scrape and roll across the land to make your great escape. The sound design does much to anchor you into the insanity and simultaneously motivates you to roll your butt off. If you die, not to worry, you can load a recent save and have at it again. And when you’re not running you’ll encounter all sorts of surprises.
There was a moment in my early game where my tribe encountered a buff torso merged into the front of a 1940s era car. It’s audible rage tore across the quiet landscape. It wanted us dead and we needed to escape. This turned into a surprising boss sequence that required me to think quickly on how to outsmart this thing of someone’s nightmares.
Just When You Think It’s Safe
Later I was drinking water and quietly minding my own business when a giant human jaw in the shape of a vertical clam descended upon my homies, eating one of my favorite Trebhum, leaving me in shock. RIP Greg. And then a few minutes after Greg’s death, a leviathan descended from the sky that looked like a snake who went through a Dr. Seuss alien blender.
Never once does the Eternal Cylinder become wholly recognizable. You will never have an axis to define the flora and fauna you encounter over the journey and that’s remarkable in today’s day and age of cookie cutter video game genres.
All of this is superbly voiced with a generous narrator who describes in whimsy detail the important proceedings. He does great work to ground you in the plight of the Trebhum as each area presents new challenges and new mutations to conquer. It feels like your favorite bedtime story and beckons you to relax and let the wildness wash over you.
The world of The Eternal Cylinder is the most imaginative surrealist representation I’ve seen to date. You’ll be shaking your head in wonder at just how the hell anyone was able to think up such a design for a creature that just skids across the water. Or the giant floating monsters that want to sit on you. It’s a boon that the gameplay holds up as well and if you ever find it too challenging, it’s easy to turn down various settings to let you sit back and immerse yourself in something you won’t be able to easily describe to your friends. And the longer you play you’ll wonder why more games aren’t this creative in all aspects. I really enjoyed my time guiding my flock of Trebhum from danger to salvation. And I hope you will too. Just remember to roll like you didn’t know you could.
*** PC game code provided by the publisher ***
• Outrageous and surreal world
• A giant, crushing cylinder
• Sublime narration
• Fun platforming and puzzles
• Can get stuck at times
• Some boring mutations