The Eternal Cylinder Review: A Captivating Adventure, Once it Gets Rolling – Screen Rant

Ace Team’s The Eternal Cylinder features some memorably psychedelic sights and sounds, but its survival gameplay can feel muddy and imprecise.
Some species survive by banding together, like the tiny two-legged tribble-like aliens questing through the surreal landscapes of ACE Team’s The Eternal Cylinder. These bumbling but brave critters are known as “trebhum,” and players will guide them in overcoming the incomprehensible menace of The Cylinder itself, a massive deadly dowel steamrolling the planet’s terrain, crushing flora and fauna and everything in between with distressing ease. The Eternal Cylinder boasts a visual kaleidoscope of creepy extraterrestrial designs for much of its runtime, though an uneven assortment of mechanics and some goofy controls can be wearying.
Players control the trebhum as a group, though this only ever involves inhabiting a single one at a time. They certainly benefit from greater numbers, and opportunities to recruit additional trebhum are key to overcoming specific puzzles and encounters. The trebhum don’t actually speak or interact with each other much, but they’re good at following the leader, helpfully warping nearby if they stray too far, and are charmingly horrid little buggers to watch tumble over these psychedelic valleys and canyons.
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Tucking into a ball and rolling around like an armadillo is a main method of locomotion in The Eternal Cylinder, though later mutations unlock others. The trebhum can hoover up plants and even some small creatures, all of which can be digested for health, stamina, hydration, and special game-changing mutation effects. A furry tenacious plant in a wintry climate prompts the trebhum to grow fur as protection from the cold, a certain fish will allow them to move more quickly on the surface of the water, and there are a number of stranger functions to divine, most of which can be mixed and matched.
Another game may have hidden these effects behind frequent trial-and-error gameplay, but a surprising amount of The Eternal Cylinder is laboriously spelled out and catalogued. The omnipresent narrator (immediately reminiscent of Biomutant, though more tonally welcome here) is generous with hints, but copious text tutorials go full-bore into the game’s systems, making the rare occasion where this handholding is absent doubly confusing.
Still, there’s always the impetus to go forward. Maybe that’s thanks to The Eternal Cylinder’s basic progress scheme, which works out like this: at the start of a specific hunk of the map, things are fairly quiet. Beasts muscle around the alien dunes and a few trebhum are tucked away, recruitable by rescue or coercion. Resources are everywhere and players can determine what they may need to consume or opt to experiment. Temples can be explored to further the plot or upgrade stats and the occasional boss encounter rears its head.
All the while, a shimmering dome sections off this area from the next. That represents the magical protective influence of the trebhum themselves, whose activation of towers (usually) halts The Cylinder temporarily. Breach this membrane and The Cylinder suddenly continues its destructive journey; mistakenly doing so and having to scramble for the next tower is usually good for a laugh. Reach that new tower and the gameplay loop renews, possibly in a new biome with new creatures and opportunities. Outside of occasional wrinkles to these basics, they form the bulk of The Eternal Cylinder.
Even following intergalactic eye candy like Journey to the Savage Planet or No Man’s Sky, The Eternal Cylinder’s visual presentation remains wholly its own and worth the ticket price. Nearly every vista and its creatures prompt double-takes, especially the genuinely terrifying Servants of The Cylinder, such as the nightmarish hulking humanoid The Mathematician. Viewing the game’s world from the low stature of the trebhum allows for the environment to coyly reveal its scale over even the smallest hill, pushing players to quickly draw out emergency routes while The Cylinder rolls along and the planet’s inhabitants gnash and snarl around them.
This chase-and-reprieve dynamic makes for a well-paced campaign which should take most players 12 hours or so to complete. The Eternal Cylinder makes for a tricky game to conveniently classify, and the mix of survival, exploration, platforming, puzzle, and action elements does sometimes collide with its clumsy and slippery controls. Adjustable difficulty settings are welcoming, but even on default mode there’s a generosity of checkpointing and saves, and rarely is an attempt punished too harshly; plus, when the permanent mutation system is later unlocked, it feels practically game-breaking. Warts and all, The Eternal Cylinder remains an accessible oddball adventure of one-of-a-kind sights.
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The Eternal Cylinder is out now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. A digital PC code was provided to Screen Rant for the purpose of this review.
Leonardo Faierman was born in Buenos Aires, raised in Queens, on the playground was where he planned most of his schemes. Since then he’s plowed a jagged path as a writer, editor, podcaster, comic creator, and mostly benevolent malcontent in New York City. His favorite comic book is Love & Rockets, favorite film is Mad Max: Fury Road, favorite video game is Guardian Heroes, favorite book is The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet. At the time of this writing, there is the distinct possibility that all or some of those have changed. Leo’s 1/5th of the long-running podcast @BlackComicsChat, 1/2 of horror podcast @TheScreamSquad, film editor for the independent sci-fi monthly newsletter Narazu, and generally has words all over the interwebs, but they’re frequently gathered up on Twitter at @LeonardoEff — you can go yell at him there, if needed.