An extraordinary survival adventure
The Eternal Cylinder is a survival adventure game about a pack of transforming alien creatures on the run from an endless, ancient and unstoppable force – a literal cylinder that crushes everything in its path. It can be restrained, but only momentarily. It’s inevitable.
Given the consistently unique track record of the ACE team, I expected The Eternal Cylinder be weird – it’s the same people who imagined Zeno Clash and rock of ages, after all. One look at a screenshot, any screenshot, and you know you’re on a journey.
What I didn’t expect was how much fun it would be to find my way through this fantastical and grotesque alien landscape. I mean, I didn’t come expecting to have a bad time, I just thought there might be some frustrating moments considering all the gender elements at play.
Frankly, it’s one of the newest games of 2021. I’m so glad I had time for it.
The Eternal Cylinder (PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One, PC)
Developer: ACE Team
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Released: September 30, 2021
At the same time I want to tell you everything about the Lord Cylinder and nothing at all.
Like my favorite survival games, it’s heavily story-driven, with an excellent narrator to help you make sense of your imaginative yet nightmarish surroundings.
There are several toggles you can use to mitigate hunger/thirst, enemy aggression, and how fiercely that intimidating cylinder rolls after your weirdo tribe, among other parameters. It’s important to note this upfront, and also to point out how easy it is to save the game “just in case” and/or rely on generous autosaves when things go horribly wrong. There are even safeguards in place to prevent an incorrectly timed manual save.
At a glance from behind the scenes – and even at the start of the game itself – it might seem like The Eternal Cylinder is a kind of roguelike-infused game. You can lose members of your Trebhum squishy family and still get by, but if they all fade (due to, say, a giant rolling pin), it’s game over. You’ll then have multiple savegames to choose from, as this isn’t a run-based structure – it’s a linear story with vast swaths of ground to explore.
As you scavenge for food and drink, trying not to get eaten by things with too many teeth, or chased by super weird man-machine hybrids, you’re not under the weather. . (Usually.) The cylinder will stay in place until you enter an impossible-to-miss wall of energy, and the moment you cross that line, the race is on.
Once the cylinder heats up (which is usually but not always under your control), to stop its progress, you’ll need to roll as fast as your little creature’s stamina meter allows. If you can turn it into a remote tower and activate it, it’ll hold back the Devouring Machine – until you decide you’re ready to ~start all over again~ to continue your odyssey.
I can’t overstate how exciting chase sequences are, even once you know the drill. It’s gruesome and beautiful to watch the monster chop down trees, crush fleeing wildlife, and smash mountains – but best not to get too distracted. You’ll escape the cylinder dozens of times throughout the game, and I had a lot of photo-finishes.
The sound design, and especially the eerie soundtrack, which is so memorable in so many ways, is spot on. It elevates the whole experience. Although The Eternal Cylinder falls into an identifiable and almost too repetitive cycle, the threat always seems real.
I was constantly afraid of falling into a no-win situation, especially since I realized it was not a short game, but those fears never materialized. Everything just “worked”.
This goes for the cylinder exhaust strokes to the next tower, as well as the Trebhum which I didn’t directly control. You can freely trade between your clansmen (which is great for stocking up on some resources for a rainy day), and everyone will automatically follow and keep themselves alive – within reason. They’re not invincible, but considering how many minions with a death wish I’ve lost in video games before, I was surprised at how vigilant the AI was. I feel like there’s trickery going on behind the scenes, but the illusion usually holds and, most importantly, there’s no unnecessary friction.
The Eternal Cylinder strikes a good balance – there’s high-stakes excitement without too much stress to the point that it’s no longer fun. I also like the mix of “what’s that over there?” exploration mixed with survival and puzzles, some of which are housed in low-key video game-style dungeons, and some of which unfold naturally from encounters and interactions in the world as you learn to dance with ambivalent and predatory species.
I’ve gone far enough without even describing the basic minute-by-minute gameplay loop. Whoops. As one of these mutated Trebhum creatures, you’ll run, jump, roll, plop, float, suck and spray; I’m probably forgetting others. With their trunks, they can suck up food and other trinkets (a weirdly nice mechanic) and then store them in their bodies (multi-slots). You’ll press any sucked item into the HUD (using the d-pad on a controller) and then consume it, or perhaps revive it, depending on the situation. You can also spray water. Every time you do, the rest of your herd will join you, and it’s pretty hilarious to shoot a monstrosity with a well-aimed shot to the eye.
Different snacks cause different evolutionary reactions within the Trebhum, and you’ll use these new forms to travel the world, fend off threats, and solve puzzles. The trick is having the right ingredients to create the right mix of collectively capable creatures. You’ll want to branch out, but the game isn’t so rigid that you necessarily have to do it all the time.
You can sneeze fire, grow fur, gain fins, glow in the dark, grow crystal clear skin, and even gain the ability to scan creatures for a lore-filled compendium. There is a whole network of mutant abilities – a system reminiscent of the fascinating but flawed Ancestors: Humankind’s Odyssey, in the best possible way. Further, you can combine specific ingredients to “lock” a mutation, then allow your Trebhum to morph freely anywhere. Otherwise, you are limited to what is in your environment. The Eternal Cylinder is balanced; everything you need is at your fingertips, especially when it comes to puzzle-filled temples.
During your travels, you’ll want to keep an eye out for Trebhum eggs to hatch with a heat source, or new members to rescue or revive. At one point I was able to store my extras in “the cloud”, and the future me, much later, was grateful for the help. You’ll also want to look for shrines where you can spend glitter currency to boost your stamina and increase the number of Trebhums you can lead, as examples.
How are the performances? I played the PS4 version mostly on my PS5, and it was smooth aside from a few hectic rare instances with short-lived drops; don’t expect a fully locked 60fps. I also tested my endgame save on a PS4 Pro, which was adequate, but noticeable degradation – you’ll be fine if you can tolerate the rough 30fps range.
It should be noted that there are no PS5 and Xbox Series X/S editions, as this is a PS4, PC and Xbox One game (with next-gen compatibility); a physical edition is coming later. As a nitpick, I wish there were more trophies/achievements for added replayability; there is no platinum. I appreciate the field of view options on consoles though!
At this point, I have to hope you’re sufficiently intrigued by what I’ve written, because I’m wary of saying too much about this game’s story, characters, or motivations.
I think The Eternal Cylinder does a great job with all of these facets. Beyond the cylinder of force of nature, there’s also a recurring villain, a bizarre-headed naked giant called The Mathematician, who adds wrinkles to your great escape. The Trebhum are clumsy pieces of flesh, sure, but they also have a rich history and a potentially bright future ahead of them, which you will slowly discover. And the narrator isn’t just there to provide context for you, the player, in this wacky world – although he does a good job of it. It could have easily been a mystifying mess to try to sort through, but it never is. Playability matters a lot.
I don’t have many complaints if I’m being honest. I feel like it’s a rare case of a weird game that really go for it while remaining, above all, pleasant to play. I could see some people potentially wanting more traversal abilities, or more upheaval in the explore-survive-escape format, but I like that things never get too complicated, and most “cycles” introduce something new, even if it’s a little surprise or change.
The Eternal Cylinder clocked in at around ten, and I was so engrossed in it – I was so curious how my bunch of funky critters were going to get out of this seemingly insurmountable jam – that I finished the game in two sittings. It really clicked with me.
I’m also excited to see how well it resonates with everyone. Maybe not! But I really enjoyed it and this experience will stay in my memory for a long time.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]