You’ve crash landed on an alien planet, you are near death but still better off than your comrades. Your power suit is out of battery and if the strange creatures don’t kill you, the environment will. On top of everything it feels like 1992 because Exile’s End can easily be mistaken for a Super Nintendo game. It doesn’t just look and sound the part, the level design and difficulty hold Exile’s End true to that era. Sometimes I get a little shell-shocked (radical!) when I play throwback style games because they don’t hold your hand like games of today. Exile’s End was no exception, but behind every stumble was a rewarding revelation that kept me coming back.
For many, the stumbles will begin from the moment you take control of Jameson, the game’s protagonist. Developer Magnetic Realms tries to capture the feeling of helplessness, hopelessness and fear by stripping you of your weapons and power suit functionality, sound familiar? While I have no issues with this gameplay norm, it’s the length of time we must spend in this predicament that is so taxing. Since your power suit is offline you will take fall damage from moderate falls, meaning every jump you must view down using the right stick and see where you’re going. With no weapons, you are forced to throw rocks at the planet’s dangerous life forms or just avoid them entirely.
The feeling of tension was evident but it didn’t take long for me to run out of health, when that happens you will respawn but with only a sliver of life. This meant that until I found a health item, which was quite a while, that every fall that was just too high or bump into an enemy was immediate death. This quickly got frustrating and I could easily see many players giving up on the game completely at this point. This is a shame too because things really pick up when you get a weapon, some health and can make real progress. Before long I was managing a couple different guns, grenades, health packs and of course my trusty rocks.
Each room is represented by a rectangular screen on your map, and it’s easy to see which areas you been to and which are unexplored. There aren’t any waypoints or hints, so it’s up to the player to pay attention to any dialog or text to know what to do. Quite a few times I was stumped and backtracked to unnecessary areas, losing health in the process. But that’s how games were back in the old days, no YouTube guides or forums to hold your hands. I think if you enjoy games from that era, you will find Exile’s End to be quite refreshing.
As I mentioned above, Jameson is quite the badass once he gets his equipment back. Falls from the tallest areas won’t cause any damage, double jumps are high and precise and his aim is always true. A lot of the gameplay consists of shooting enemies and searching for items. Some areas are unreachable until you find a keycard or get an ability like double jump or being able to withstand radiation. This is enough to keep things moving but the constant respawning of enemies made backtracking more of a chore than I would prefer. Thankfully controlling Jameson is smooth and intuitive.
Presentation wise Exile’s End creates a foreign and desolate environment quite well. The music fits perfectly with the game, further heightening the feeling of loneliness. Once the game loaded the first time I did not see another loading screen throughout my entire playthrough. Graphically it looks like a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis game that released towards the end of the console lifetime. I’m not a big fan of the main character design, to me he looks like a medieval knight. I would have much preferred Jameson to look like the character in the cover art.
Exile’s End is one of those games that appeals to a niche group of gamers and will likely frustrate younger, less experienced ones. It is fundamentally sound with tight controls and gunplay, quick loading and little hand-holding. Additional survival and speed run modes add replay value, as does online leaderboards. At $9.99 it is not a huge investment should you decide it’s not for you. 16-bit veterans should definitely check it out.