Developer: Sean Wenham
Publisher: Sean Wenham
Played on: Android
Release Date: N/A (Last updated December 11, 2015)
Time Played: 18 minutes
Paid: $0 (Free to play)
The end of the world happens every day.
Well, I guess that’s a slightly misleading statement. A better way of putting it would be that the end of a world happens every day. It may not involve you or someone you know, but hardship is a constant presence in our lives. Day in and day out, we struggle to build up and maintain some semblance of a satisfactory existence, yet it’s seemingly inevitable that it will all come crashing down. It happens in different ways at different times for different people, but there always seems to come a point where every facet of our existence, carefully placed and polished to a mirror sheen, becomes utterly meaningless in the face of some seemingly insurmountable challenge. The world that we’ve so carefully built up around ourselves shatters into thousands of pieces, and we’re left to wade through some of the hardest times in our life as everything seems to fall apart.
Such is the premise of The End of the World, a short, linear, narrative-driven experience for mobile devices. As the game’s store description explains, it follows the life of a man whose world ended the day that he lost his love. In the game, this “world ending” takes the form of the world literally falling apart and decaying around the protagonist as time goes on. It’s the player’s task to take the man through the terrible hardships he faces and hopefully find a way to move on.The game plays using very simplistic mechanics; simply tap and hold on either side of the screen to move the character, tap on flickering objects to interact with them, and tap and hold on clocks to rewind time. Most of the interactions are fairly basic: sitting at a table, drinking some coffee, or triggering a flashback, to name a few. What gets interesting is the latter part: the time rewinding mechanic. See, there are large clocks at various points in the game, and as mentioned previously, tapping and holding them rewinds time back to before the man lost his love. This provides a dramatic change in the style of the game, as drab grays and browns change to orange and gold tones. The music picks up, becoming brighter and cheerier. Each one of these memories is some simple, yet pleasant scenario with the man’s love: the two of them lying in bed, kissing during a romantic movie, etc. They give brief insights into what once was, giving some context to the emptiness that the protagonist now feels. It’s an interesting way of telling a story, and one which I think suits the tone of the game quite well. It ends up turning into a solemn “adventure”, where you meander from place to place in the hopes of finding some new area that will jog your memory and remind you of a better time. This makes the game into a truly sobering experience; there’s barely a drop of levity to be found.
On a brighter side, the game’s art style is gorgeous. I always forget that mobile game developers can often have far greater freedom to use interesting and experimental art styles due to the (generally) cheaper development costs associated with mobile development. Maybe my forgetfulness has something to do with the glut of Candy Crush and Clash of Clans clones plaguing the market at the moment. Anyway, The End of the World does an excellent job of standing out with its painterly, watercolour art style and (mostly) muted colour palette. It’s the kind of game where you can get an idea of the protagonist’s mindset simply from the first moments. He wakes up in a drab, colourless room, the whole place reeking of depression and decay. It’s pretty obvious what kind of experience you’re in for. The animation is also surprisingly well-done, with the character’s various actions all brought beautifully to life, which is especially surprising given the small team behind this game’s development. Overall, I was quite impressed, to the point where I wished that there was a PC version of the game just so that I could see all the artistry on display on a larger HD screen.Really, my biggest complaint with The End of the World is that it was over too soon, and unfortunately not in the complimentary way. The game’s store page advertises it as being about 15 to 20 minutes, and it took me about that long to complete. The problem was that it felt like it needed to be longer. Maybe it was because I haven’t gone through the exact same situation as the main character, but I found that I was wanting more time to get acquainted with his struggles by the time the credits rolled. It almost felt like the game was in a rush to finish, lest it get boring. To a certain extent, I can respect that, as it’s always better for a game to leave one wanting more than to overstay its welcome. But I just felt like things that were trying to be played up a bit ended up falling flat because of the rushed pacing. For instance, when you start the game, one of the things you can do is open your wardrobe, pick out the single set of clothing hanging there, and get dressed. Later, you wake up the next day and do this same thing again. I felt like the game was trying to set up a kind of “routine”, to really drill into the player how dull the protagonist’s life had become since their world started falling apart. However, the idea was never revisited after that second time. It’s kind of a weird complaint, honestly; I wish the game made me do the same repetitive task over and over again. I wanted to really feel the hopeless monotony that the lead was stuck in. Instead, by the time the credits rolled, I was sitting there thinking, “Oh, okay,” rather than it being an emotional revelation like it seemed to be going for. It’s a shame, really, because I absolutely love emotional climaxes in games that really make me FEEL something. I just think that this one could have been about twice as long or so and done a much better job of that.The End of the World is an interesting game for a few reasons. It’s taken me longer to write this review than it did to play through it in its entirety. Honestly, depending on how fast of a reader you are (and your internet speed), you might be able to download it and play through it in the time it would take you to read through my ramblings about it. But if you’ve managed to stave off the allure of a short, free mobile game and have stayed this long, let me just say this: I think that The End of the World is a good game. It wasn’t as incredible as I had hoped, but it was good. On top of that, I can definitely see the value in it, and think that depending on what your past or present holds, it may have more to say to you than it did to me. At the very least, I think it’s worth a play. It’s short, and it’s free, but it does not waste your time. If anything, you may want it to waste a bit more of it.