The End Has Begun: Impressions

By John Walker on August 9th, 2011 at 2:31 pm.

This is what happens after you die: a videogame.

Preloaded’s latest game for Channel 4, The End, is out today. It’s a game about death, big questions, and in turn, life. It’s also a platform game. And a board game. That’s a strange combination. Does it work? Well, I’ve been having a play.

As a concept, yes sirree it does. As a platform game, it’s a little bit wobbly.

The platforming is smart enough. Your main goal is to collect a key from a level, which lets you unlock one of two doors at the end. Yes or No, in answer to a large, reaching question. Do you think people should have the right to decide how they die? Is it possible to be happy simply living in the moment? You choose your answer, which is plotted on a graph against other thinkers and writers (and your friends via Facebook if you so take part) and this tells you… something about yourself.

But there’s a lot more going on. To begin there’s a rather fun character creator, with a surprising amount of variety, and the excellent potential for creating a character with brains hanging out of a hole in his or her head. Get started and you have the choice of playing in the Body, Mind or Spirit World, each of which has six levels, and thus six questions to answer. Finish all those and you can enter a door marked The End.

The levels themselves have a fair amount to do, too. You can plough through the physics puzzles and platforming to reach the key and the doors at your own pace, or try to complete a level in the countdown timer’s limit. (Although I’m fairly certain it’s impossible in at least some of the levels.) Then there’s also stars to collect in each, which will require further exploration and solving trickier challenges, which certainly gives you a reason to go back.

Ah, and there’s also the game’s gimmick. You can affix shadows in place and use them as platforms, sending your own shadow off to run along them. Then you can leap into your shadow’s position once you’re done.

Once a level’s completed, that’s not it either. You go on to play one of three strange beast creatures in a puzzle game that’s surprisingly decent. You and he have hexagonal pieces with numbers of them. They’re laid in a grid, and if the matching side of your piece has a higher number than his, then his piece flips to be your colour. The one with the most pieces when the grid is filled wins. As you progress you win bonus skills that let you manipulate the tiles in your favour, which eventually builds up in a game that’s engaging and requires a decent amount of thought. It’s wildly out of place in the game – I have absolutely no idea how or why it was ever thought relevant to everything else – but it matters none as it’s quite a lot of fun.

The issue I’ve found is the platforming. It’s functional, and it certainly doesn’t make the game not worth playing. It just doesn’t flow quite right. Your movement feels unnatural, slightly staccato, which makes timing jumps awkward and often annoying. Movement in the air mid-jump is by far the worst aspect, making judging the keyboard stabs to reach a platform often seemingly unfair. Then oftentimes it just messes up entirely, meaning you fall when you should grip a ledge, or fail because of an unexplained mechanic. For instance, at one point you’re standing on a moving block, and madly the camera becomes fixed to the block’s movement, not yours. This means if you jump somewhere perfectly safe, or even stand still near the edge of the screen, if the block moves too far away then you die. Huh? When did that rule suddenly get introduced?

The shadow gimmick is also messy. It’s poorly introduced, and not well taught. It has to be the right sort of shadow, apparently, and while walking through light makes the platforms disappear, they also seem to disappear at other times too and I’m not sure why.

But as an idea, it’s really interesting. It’s a game designed to provoke thoughts about the nature of existence, death, belief and science. With no agenda, it instead puts various perspectives and asks questions, with information about the various aspects appearing in a neatly designed website immediately below the game’s window.

It’s aimed at teenagers, but I’m not sure there’s any reason it wouldn’t be of interest to people older. In fact, I’d be a little surprised if a physics platformer was exactly what the target audience is after, but then I’m and old, old man, out of touch with the young people of today.

The art is simply fantastic. From a newcomer (says the press release) called Luke Pearson, there are hints of Craig Thomspon, Chris Ware, and… and… someone else I can’t put my finger on, which is driving me mad.

Completely free, and playable now, it’s definitely worth taking a look.

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37 Comments »

  1. Anthile says:

    It lets me choose a tophat and a monocle right from the start! Instant favourite.

  2. Moni says:

    Is that a giant sweaty poo monster?

  3. Alexander Norris says:

    Unrigorous pseudo-philosophy:

    So, does this game have provisions for players who deconstruct the question? Because the answer to “is it possible to be happy simply living in the moment?” purely depends on your definition of “happy.”

    If by “happy” you intend a definition which includes blissful ignorance then yes, of course. If your definition of “happy” necessarily implies a conscious choice, then no, because blissful ignorance by definition does not involve choosing to be happy; it’s merely avoiding anything that might make you unhappy.

    • Keymonk says:

      I’d wager that since it’s asking you, the player the question, I’m figuring it’s your definition it depends on.

    • Pijama says:

      NOT THE POINT.

      Honestly, stuff like this is the same thing like that guy who said Torment was not really philosophical, or some such. I think we are *very* far away from games that allow us to have such degree of subjective experience such as what you are proposing – meanwhile, let’s work with what we have in our hands, shall we? :D

    • Lobotomist says:

      Oh cmmon – nitpicking

    • Alexander Norris says:

      If you think trying to define the subject is “nitpicking,” you might want to consider reading around, and perhaps going to university.

    • Adventurous Putty says:

      So he can rub it in that he’s read Derrida, Lacan, and Barthes on a video game website? I suspect he, like most people, prefers to avoid assholishness.

    • Keep says:

      No no, this is nitpicking: the word “deconstruct” notwithstanding, this approach is more Russell, Moore, Quine than it is continental philosophy.

      Also, “pseudo-philosophy”s a really peculiar concept. How would you define that one, OP?

    • The Tupper says:

      God, I love this site.

      Where else do you get a complaint like Alexander Norris’s prefigured by Moni’s “Is that a giant sweaty poo monster?”. Class.

    • President Weasel says:

      Russell Moore Quine is my least favourite philosophiser.

    • Christian O. says:

      I don’t think Norris’ complaint is invalid; at one point you’re asked “if your mind was transfered into another body, would it still be you?” Which needs a significant amount of clarification such as by mind, do they mean the brain? The thought pattern? Or something else entirely?

      I like that it might make people question their beliefs, but most of the questions are vague to the point of obtuseness; so while the main point remains, it’s infuriating to read if you actually have a clear opinion on the subjects.

  4. Bhazor says:

    Terrible jumping mechanics, unskippable dialogs and some Facebook nags. Shame.

    Why can’t developers get the basics right before getting all ambitious on us?

  5. Symitri says:

    Just out of curiosity, during the opening sequence when the earth starts rumbling – is that sound identical to the one that happens with the ripples in S.T.A.L.K.E.R?

  6. Lobotomist says:

    In game and loving it :)

  7. McDan says:

    Interesting game, to say the least, I like making characters really.

  8. Anthile says:

    Oh wow, the scrolling part in the fifth Body level is really infuriating.

  9. Berzee says:

    Indeed.
    A platformer about death?
    Not a platformer for me,
    indeed.

    • Berzee says:

      Well, maybe I’ll relent and try it someday when I’m feeling

      1) Happy enough to like anything, or
      2) Gloomy enough to like platformers about death

      but not right now. =) This game cannot fit in my mind alongside the lightsaber lathing one.

    • sidneymcdanger says:

      I’m a bit confused by what the surprise is. If you take a look at how platformer characters spend their time, you’ll find that they’re *all* about dying. :)

    • Berzee says:

      But most of them are “about” dying in the same way that NASCAR drivers are “about” futility and repetition. This game looks like a NASCAR driver painted his car all black with grey dripping letters on it that say “when will it end?” and “the light recedes forever”.

      Note that I’m taking the liberty to say all of this from looking at the screenshots but not reading the article or playing the game……..because I’m a cool guy like that.

  10. Masked Dave says:

    I can’t select the powers I want to take into the card games, wtf?

  11. Altemore says:

    I’ve played three or four levels of Body so far and have been very frustrated. The platforming is really iffy, and the levels unnecessarily frustrating, with specifically the last level I’ve played(The one where you have to get a rock to roll onto a button by using the rock’s own shadow as a rock, then have two smaller rocks land on a pair of buttons) being maddening. It felt like there was one single checkpoint that did very little to alleviate all the backtracking due to a) Stupid death traps, like spikes right beneath the screen at the bottom of a ladder, and b) Bugginess, like the aforementioned two rocks disappearing if I touched them. It makes me wonder why a game that takes place after you die has so much damn death in it. I think this could have been the game to use some of the ideas from that one RPS feature on the subject, namely somehow working around the requirement of death-spikes and the like in a platformer.
    I’m the kind of pedant who has found every question so far to be badly worded. I think I’ll keep playing, as the theme intrigues me and it might be going places. I hold that Bill Williams’ “Necromancer” is a much better game on the theme of death, though.

  12. Tei says:

    “But there’s a lot more going on. To begin there’s a rather fun character creator, with a surprising amount of variety, and the excellent potential for creating a character with brains hanging out of a hole in his or her head.”

    I think that is called “having a open mind”.

  13. a.simons613 says:

    The platforming sucks. The card game is quite entertaining. I wish more discussion was involved with the questions. Maybe that’s what the game wants to promote.

    • n3burgener says:

      I didn’t feel like the questions were very well integrated into the gameplay. They don’t seem to affect anything at all, and even the game doesn’t do much to emphasize them, besides the “Death Dial.” They really just feel like you’re filling out of a personality questionnaire, with a bunch of somewhat tedious platforming in-between.

      I played the whole game and wrote some of my thoughts in a semi-review, if you’re interested in a little more of an explanation about the questions and the gameplay.

      http://thenocturnalrambler.blogspot.com/2011/08/end-hard-to-find-via-search-engine.html

  14. Jarmo says:

    there are hints of Craig Thompson, Chris Ware, and… and… someone else I can’t put my finger on

    Daniel Clowes? Charles Burns? Peter Bagge?

  15. mihor_fego says:

    This game would really be interesting if the controls were responsive – I don’t know if the problem is it being played on the browser, but precision platforming on scrolling sequences need the quality of controls Braid has. Yes, it’s the point you mentioned on Body level 5. In Super Meat Boy, I know my dying is due to my incompetence – here it feels almost random. I would download a version where the character moved the second you pressed the key but this is too frustrating.

    Also… Luke Pearson a newcomer? I guess he needs to do some Marvel commissions to be considered an established artist in the comic business according to Channel 4.

  16. Christian O. says:

    Pretty pissed off that the last level is broken.

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