Crawling In The Dark

HIGH Thick and cold atmosphere.

LOW Having to close all windows to see something on the screen.

WTF Dying at a fight 15x in a row only to win for no clear reason.

With each step, the snow crackles under my feet while the glow of lit torches permeates the air. My character is tired. He huffs and puffs, blood dripping down his tunic and staining the white snow. He looks ahead in the dark and realizes he’s still got hours of foreboding caves left to go through.

This is when I also come to a realization — I am much more tired of this adventure than he is.

The first impressions of this 2D hand-crafted cinematic platformer by 2 Ton Studios are definitely positive. The narrative setup is short and to the point — our hero has to find his way back to his family while stumbling around in dark caves and trying to survive deadly enemies, traps and falls.

The atmosphere is dense with appropriate sound effects and a total absence of soundtrack, and I was immediately drawn in. As someone who’s played some of the classic cinematic platformers from the early ’90s, the gameplay is familiar — make way through caves, jump and dash through traps.

In pure ’90s fashion, one-hit-death is the norm for most situations the player will confront. These instadeathtraps can be especially irritating if one is unfamiliar with this style of design — generally I don’t mind it that much, but this decidedly old school flavor contributes to a general feeling of frustration by having to overcome each obstacle through endless trial and error.

Aside from the instant death, the biggest factor as to whether one will click with Unto the End or not is the combat, and the tardy tutorial (the protagonist sparring with his wife) comes only after ten minutes of gameplay.

Basically, the character can execute high and low attacks and parries, along with dodges and fakes, and all of these have to be timed perfectly according to an enemy’s tells and reactions. Make no mistake, even one moment of hesitation will probably spell death.

Aside from the one detailed combat tutorial, Unto the End never explains much of anything to the player. I learned this the hard way when I found out that the button to pick up items is also used to operate levers and switches. I probably would have discovered it much earlier, but 90% of the gameplay is spent in almost total darkness.

It is definitely not recommended to play during daytime hours since any light shining through windows makes seeing anything nigh impossible. This might not be much of an issue with a different genre of game, but Unto the End wants players to frantically anticipate every enemy’s action, along with checking the ground for useful items and deadly traps. It’s quite tough in the dim conditions, and to make things worse, sometimes foreground graphics get in the way.

It’s a frustrating situation, but sometimes random buttonmashing got me through. In one encounter that I had lost ten times in a row, I passed the joypad to my significant other (not skilled with action games) and they actually managed to kill several of the enemies without having seen the tutorials and only minimal direction from me.

I thought this success was beginner’s luck, but I’ve talked with others who played Unto the End and they told me that randomness is indeed a factor in overcoming enemies. At times they’re ruthless and the most careful of approaches is required to not die instantly, and at other times, spamming random attacks works best.

Unto the End first appears to be an attractive cinematic platformer that gets a lot right with rich atmosphere and simple graphics. However, it’s ultimately let down by the darkness of its environments, irritating trial-and-error gameplay and an overcomplicated combat system.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

— Damiano Gerli

Disclosures: This game is developed by 2 Ton Studios and published by Big Sugar. It is currently available on PC, PS4, Switch, XBO and Stadia. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PS4. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The game is rated T by the ESRB for Blood and Violence. While it isn’t a very bloody game and the simple graphics don’t show graphic details, it’s not recommended for kids because of its foreboding atmosphere and violent gameplay.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options. It’s also not recommended for people who might have issues playing games with extremely dark environments.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: While there is no dialogue (and thus, no subtitles or non-menu text) the game becomes even more difficult without sound since there are no visual or vibrational cues to alert the player when near traps or enemies. This game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The controls are not remappable.

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