In the current troubled state of AAA gaming, there’s something inherently cozy and refreshing about small indie projects created by passionate developers with a handle on their own ambition. Unto The End is one such project. Developed By 2 Ton Games and released for all modern platforms, this is an immersive and absorbing experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Unto the End is a cinematic action platformer that takes clear visual inspiration from genre classics like Flashback and Another World, but where those games focused on puzzle adventuring, Unto the End is more concerned with brutal combat encounters. The player controls a nameless protagonist on a vague quest across a bleak, snowy landscape. The lonely atmosphere is palpable in every screen, helped along by the lack of dialogue and subtle soundtrack. In fact, some of the most memorable moments included simply trudging through the thick snow while pine trees pressed close on every side, the only sound that of the wind whipping along the valley floor. Few games since the original Dark Souls have managed such an excellent and consistent feeling of lonely travel, and I delighted in what were otherwise uninteresting stretches of game simply because the vibe was so oppressive.
Those peaceful moments are contrasted with sudden bouts of scary, challenging, messy fights with savage creatures that ambush the player in dark caves and secluded stretches of road. Whether using crude weaponry or just sharp claws, each enemy poses a distinctly severe threat; Rarely did I find myself fighting more than one or two foes at a time. Combat is brutally difficult due to the pitiful health of the protagonist — a single wayward thrust can spell game over. Therefore, making proper use of the provided tools is absolutely essential. There’s a shocking level of actions available to the player, including high and low attacks, high and low blocks, taunting, ducking, rolling, and fainting. Every button on the control pad does something unique, and acquiring mastery over the entirety of the move set is necessary to succeed. Each encounter is a scripted event that has been painstakingly designed to be difficult without feeling impossible, but that balance occasionally tips too far in favor of the opponents. There were definite times where it felt as though I just wasn’t intended to succeed no matter how fast my reflexes or creative my approach. I greatly appreciated the addition of an assist mode in the settings menu that significantly slows the pace of combat. While not a perfect implementation, it helped me overcome a handful of challenges that otherwise appeared insurmountable.
Unto the End is deliberately enigmatic, something that becomes obvious upon starting the game to see that UI is nonexistent. The health of the player and his foes are displayed as blood splats on their sprite models, and not one tutorial hint is present throughout the length of the campaign. This makes the adventure feel authentic and meaningful in a way that can’t be described without experiencing it. Other mechanics contribute to this sensation as well, such as how the player can drop their sword-mid combat and torches must be manually lit and snuffed to provide lighting. Combat can even be avoided on several occasions if the player presents the right items to hostile NPCs, a neat, if somewhat played out idea that is not immediately apparent.
Unto the End can be finished in approximately 3 hours, (Much quicker if the combat clicks early on) but I imagine it will stick with me for a while. A short, quiet, absorbing journey that understands exactly what it is and how it wants the player to feel. Highly recommended