‘Eternal Cylinder’ Is a Surreal Survival Game and a Nightmarish Metaphor

Being chased is widely reported as one of the most common nightmares. In video games, it’s become a conspicuous feature of modern horror, SOMA, Outlast 2, and countless others presenting looming monsters the player can never truly escape. Now we have The Eternal Cylinder which isn’t a horror game but does offer a fresh and monumental twist on this idea of panicked escape. From what? Try the molten cylinder its title refers to, as tall as a mountain and wide as a continent. Anything caught in its path is instantly obliterated.

Players keen to try this potential nightmare fuel can sign up to the game’s beta which has just been extended until April 8th (the full release is scheduled for later in the year). If an eccentric survival game set in a psychedelic alien landscape sounds like your idea of a good time, I recommend you absolutely do. Chilean studio ACE Team is developing the game whose previous titles, the cult hits Zeno Clash and Rock of Ages, trod a similarly idiosyncratic path.

What will you find in this perpetually threatened world? For a start, a charming voice-over which makes The Eternal Cylinder feel like a cross between a David Attenborough nature documentary and a bedtime story. You play as a Trebhum, a small creature with an elephant-like trunk. The game’s interactive hook stems from your ability to consume plants and other animals which in turn augment your physiology. Adaptation, like growing longer legs, is key to surviving the game’s hostile environment, one populated with various species who’d love nothing more than to make you their own lunch. I’ve had a lot of fun just studying the ecosystem which seems to function with or without my input; it’s not unlike 2017’s Rain World, another survival title which put players at the bottom of a brilliantly dynamic food chain.

Still, I couldn’t help but look back towards the gigantic cylinder, an image nearly bursting with allegorical possibilities. In a way, we’re all the tiny Trebhum, doing whatever we can to postpone our eventual annihilation. In another, perhaps we—and I mean this in the humanity-encompassing sense of the word—are closer to the cataclysmic rolling pin, flattening and destroying everything we encounter. This makes the game sound depressing, but really it’s not. The cylinder keeps on moving, I keep on running, and life around me keeps on living; there’s nothing for it but to press on through the often wondrous world.

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