Survival. Warmth. Nourishment. Are these necessities unique to human life? It’s all too easy to forget the other creatures that call Earth their home, and it’s all too easy to brush aside the damage that the human race causes to these species on a minute-by-minute basis. Endling: Extinction is Forever is a game designed to resonate with that idea, to kindle a flame of awareness and compassion that’s keenly needed in the increasingly bedraggled world we live in. The fact that it does so with emotional depth, drama, and empathy without a hint of dialogue makes it a true tale for our times.
The world is on fire. The forest is burning and you run through this apocalyptic vista in the hope of surviving. You’re the last living fox, and once you escape the trauma of the blaze, you land amongst the refuse sacks of civilisation. Clambering out and limping through the snow-covered landscape, you discover humans wearing gas masks and trying to eke out their own living in this decrepit place. This doesn’t seem like the society we know. Then again, it might be some day.
Finding shelter it turns out that you were a pregnant fox, giving birth to four of the cutest fox cubs you’ve ever seen. You can choose their colouring and markings to a limited degree here, but there’s no turning down the cuteness and you will probably want to do anything for them. You set out to feed them and keep them safe, and the opening of the game is punctuated by the search for food and the need to return to your lair before daylight comes. If you stay out until dawn, it becomes more likely that you’ll come into contact with human beings, badgers, and traps, all of which will cause you harm one way or another. Those dangers still lurk at night too, but there’s safety in the shadows.
You have a simple range of ways to interact with the world, moving across it on 2D planes that branch off at regular intervals and let you choose the track you’re walking along. You can sniff the air as you explore, finding scents to follow, before creeping closer to them and leaping to pounce upon your prey. Other times you’ll want to leap into bushes to hide from view, or run, a necessity when you’ve got to return home on time, though one that’s constrained by the shorter, stubbier fox legs of your cubs.
Each night’s time limit makes exploration a taut and atmospheric affair. There’s also limited signposting so as you roam further and further from home it becomes an adventure in itself just trying to remember which path you took, watching the sunrise coming ever closer.
Your family is soon broken up. A trapper captures one of your cubs – in my case it was the one I’d already decided was my favourite – and the ongoing narrative follows your attempts to track them down, all whilst keeping your other cubs alive. Events are played out as scent memories that you sniff out along the way, with purple scents indicating further events while the green ones indicate nearby food. The gameplay systems here are wonderfully simple, but I found myself drawn in far more thoroughly than with any number of more complicated games.
Indie games are a bustling hive of innovation and inventiveness in gaming, and Endling makes the most of its smaller team, crafting a believable and brutal world full of incidental details that hint at what’s brought the planet to this point. It’s fair to assume that it’s an extension of the path we’re speeding along. Endling will hopefully help to raise more awareness, and promote further research into the loss of our planet’s habitats and the strain that we’re placing on our own home. Of course, you can just play it as ‘future fox simulator’ but that’s likely to be less meaningful.
I couldn’t help but feel emotionally invested in the events of the game, worrying that my cubs would have enough to eat while looking for their missing sibling. That’s helped by the drama-laden soundtrack, with atmospheric string work sitting alongside the strains of Western-influenced guitars. Furthering the atmosphere, the visuals are chunky, bold and characterful, bringing life to your foxy family and the other denizens of this wasteland.