If you’ve watched your share of nature documentaries, you’ll understand that life is brutally unforgiving, and that the fight for survival begins almost from birth. This is also true in The Eternal Cylinder, where your QBert-like creature, called a Trebhum, has only just hatched from its egg when a David Attenborough-esque voice inside its head tells it to run.
But rather than fleeing a hungry predator (more on those later), the immediate danger is the titular cylinder – huge, ominous, like the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey – as it slowly but surely rolls and crushes everything in its path.
It’s a bizarre premise for sure, but one that the Bordeu brothers of ACE Team (named after the founders’ initials, Andres, Carlos, and Edmundo) are right at home with – their previous games include the eccentric first-person fighting game Zeno Clash, and the Python-esque Rock of Ages series.
The Eternal Cylinder began life in 2015 outside the company, as a passion project of Carlos Bordeu’s. “I did this sort of small simple setup with a colleague where we basically had this large cylinder and this little creature,” he says of the project, then titled The Endless Cylinder.
“It was just this weird little game design experiment, but the video got a lot of traction on social media and our YouTube channel, and lots of people were interested. So we started thinking, ‘OK, this is actually something that we need to move forward with as a proper ACE Team title.’”
Years later, it’s the largest title the studio has made to date, as The Eternal Cylinder has evolved into an open-world survival game. It’s not quite as free-roaming as its counterparts, and players shouldn’t be expecting to build a home or base either, since the cylinder’s looming presence means you’re constantly being pushed to find a path forward.
There are, however, towers you’ll come across that, when activated, will stop the behemoth in its tracks for a little while, giving you some respite.
Of course, your Trebhum is still left to fend for itself against the bizarre and hostile creatures that roam the planet. There’s something of Pikmin crossed with Will Wright’s Spore to this part of the game, as you gradually find other Trebhums to band together.
The reference to Spore becomes clearer once you use your creature’s trunk to hoover up nearby materials and food. While being a survival game means you need to keep your critters topped up on water and sustenance as a matter of course, certain foods actually cause them to mutate and gain new abilities to survive this most trippy take on Darwin’s theory of natural selection.
According to Bordeu, the game has a versatile system that will see Trebhums mutate in hundreds of different ways, with their eyes, body types, legs, and insides all capable of change. These changes were a bit too numerous to fully appreciate in the early demo I played, although early on I happened on some frog-like creatures on my travels, which left behind a mysterious substance – by eating it, my Trebhum’s stubby legs suddenly grew, allowing it to jump to new heights.
Later on, I came across colder environments that made it impossible to linger for long unless I could feed on something that would make me immune to the new climate.
These alien environments and the surreal creatures that populate it also had me thinking of the peculiar discoveries in No Man’s Sky, although Bordeu is quick to clarify that this world is only semi-procedurally generated. “I don’t like that word entirely because it’s not fully procedural,” he says.
“We have an endless open world where the content is randomised in different ways. But the creatures are all custom-built. Their behaviour is extremely different, too – it’s not like we just have different skins for the same type of creature. Each one functions differently to the other.”
One creature I encountered that’s still burned in my mind is what can be best described as a nightmarish version of Pikmin’s Bulbmin, albeit with its mouth facing down.
From the announcement trailer alone, however, it’s clear we can also expect more gargantuan foes, which will further underline just how far down the food chain our Trebhum is. In its initial stage, the creature’s only defence is its ability to suck up water and squirt it out of its trunk.
Bordeu explains that as your Trebhum evolve, they can get better at repelling enemies, in some cases even kill them, or play nature against itself. Nonetheless, he also clarifies that combat isn’t a focus, and neither are boss encounters.
“We have events; definitely – there are special events that are more driven by the story, but I wouldn’t call them boss battles,” he says. “You already have about 30 creatures, and that variety is what we’re focusing on rather than, say, boss battles.”
A world that looks as strikingly weird as The Eternal Cylinder would certainly be wasted on something as banal as a combat game. But as strange as its creatures look, The Eternal Cylinder also has a simple, universal theme at its core. “What you’re really building,” Bordeu explains, “is your family.”
Genre: Open-world survival
Format: PC / Console
Developer: ACE Team
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment