XSEED Games brought Exile’s End to PlayStation Network on the 25th of October for PS4 and Vita. Originally developed by Matt Fielding in collaboration with other Tokyo-based developers and backed by Japanese publisher Marvelous Inc, the sci-fi metroidvania is a port of the PC original that released via Steam. We’ve solved the mysteries of its extra-terrestrial conspiracy story to bring you our review.
Exile’s End is an enticing premise; a platformer in the style of Metroid, it also carries hints of old 16-bit classics like Another World in its art style and tone. That means there’s no hand holding, plenty of exploration and backtracking to be done, new abilities to find that affect both combat and traversal, and a host of secrets to uncover. Unfortunately, the game is held back from emulating the classics it takes its inspiration from by some bland environments, an underdeveloped story, and a lack of any real depth to the mechanics. It’s not a bad title for those who fancy some very old-school action, though. Join me below as I explain why Exile’s End didn’t quite scratch my platforming itch.
The opening of Exile’s End is standard sci-fi fare: your bosses have lost contact with one of their mining facilities and they’re sending your team to investigate. After some references to your character’s murky past that are never fully explained, you’re launched down to the planet. Things all go downhill from there, your team’s pods crash and pretty soon you find yourself as the only survivor left trapped on an alien world. Push on further and you’ll find that all is not well at the mining facility and, wouldn’t you know it, you’re going to have to solve that problem before you can escape. The tone of the story is mysterious from the start, hinting at things going on behind the scenes. Unfortunately, the hints of an epic sci-fi conspiracy never materialise and even a hidden bonus scene at the game’s end fails to provide any real insight. Instead, you get a fairly humdrum ‘save the world to save yourself’ storyline. Having said that, the animated cutscenes are a nice callback to the game’s sci-fi forerunners and provide some visual variety in a game that doesn’t offer a lot to feast your eyes on.
The gameplay should be king in a game like this and early indications are promising. You start with nothing and will have to scavenge every weapon and item from your environment. There’s a lot of running and jumping to be done early game and you won’t get your first real weapon for some time. You’ll have to evade and distract enemies to survive. Which is great except that, as soon as you do get a weapon, these more thoughtful mechanics disappear from the game in any meaningful way. As well as weapons and items, you’ll be collecting abilities as you progress through Exile’s End in the form of suit power ups. Your hero’s fancy space suit has all sorts of capabilities like double jumping, a radiation shield, a rebreather, and more. Silly sausage that he is though, he forgot to pack any of these handy items, so you’ll have to find what you need as you go. As you would expect, all of these abilities are designed to help you access new areas on the map, find new items and abilities and so on and so on.
There is a distinct lack of variety to these weapons and upgrades though, even the special weapons that use suit power are functionally similar so they don’t encourage you to use them. The abilities don’t get their time to shine, a puzzle or two each and they’re done, they fail to evolve the gameplay significantly either – running down a corridor, whether it’s full of radiation, water, or not, is still running down a corridor. It works, however, and there’s something to be said for the running and gunning style of gameplay even if it doesn’t offer much variety.
Exploration is a little more engaging than combat, requiring you to take circuitous paths to your goals and working out environmental puzzles to make headway into the many branching paths of the five main zones of the game. Some will require key items to get past, or use of your suit or weapons and it’s satisfying to pick something up or make something happen that makes you think back to a previous area and how you can now affect it. There are also secret rooms that aren’t signposted in any way; they yield upgrades, health, secret tidbits of lore, and will have you chucking grenades at every upright wall just in case. The time it’ll take you to get through all of this will vary, but the average is about 6-8 hours – which I know thanks to a handy global leaderboard of record times. I should mention that my first completion time was actually 12 hours but that’s because I played the game sporadically, had a derp moment after reaching the mining facility, and after the first boss, and backtracked the entire map twice. So it probably won’t take those of you with a decent attention span that long at all. I say attention span specifically as there is no reminder of your objective or destination in this game. Apart from a map that fills out the rooms and corridors as you go, you’ll actually have to watch cutscenes and read dialogue to have any idea of where you’re supposed to be going and what you’re supposed to be doing. This isn’t necessarily a negative point as it keeps you engaged with the plot, such as it is, but it does preclude spending any significant time away from the game.
The other component to the story mode are bosses and there are three significant big bads in the game. They’re not the most inspiring fights, to be honest, you’ll jump to dodge projectiles and try and keep minions at bay while trying to hit the boss enough times to kill them before they inevitably chip down your own health bar, thrice. With the story not paying off as you might hope and the disappointing nature of these fights, the climax moments of the game don’t really hit home. It’s a shame really as there’s a lot of promise to it, it all just feels a bit bare-bones – story, environments, and action. What I will say for Exile’s End is that the mechanics work – jumping, crouching, shooting, and using items all makes sense and I never really had any niggles with the controls either. Music in the game is retro inspired, essentially repetitive techno beats but they fit the tone of the story and setting. Graphics are basic even for a retro-inspired title, outside of the nicely detailed cutscenes, the environments are sparse and character and enemy models are only marginally better. Clearly, the developer was looking to emulate the look of the games that this title references but some of the in-level visuals are basic even for that stable of games.
Outside of the main story mode, the game has a survival mode. This involves dispatching all the enemies within a given area, against the clock, before progressing to the next. It adds a bit of urgency to the gameplay of the main title and it’s fun in short bursts. It doesn’t do anything to change up the formula but it does offer scores and rankings. If nothing else, it adds some replay value on top of scouring the game for secrets or speed-running for the leaderboard.
I’m not saying that Exile’s End is a bad title, it was pleasant enough to play through and there are zero bugs and performance issues, it’s just that it has little to recommend it above the many others of its genre. It does have that retro vibe and, unlike some other ‘retro-inspired’ titles, it genuinely sticks to the old-school formula of forcing you to think your way through and stay involved in what’s going on. Health packs and limited resources combined with the lack of hand-holding really do stay true to the genre’s roots. If you are a die-hard fan of ‘Metroidvania’ style platformers you’ll probably want to try this game out, just don’t expect it to blow you away.
Exile’s End is available now for PS4 and PS Vita, as a digital download from the PlayStation Store. For more information about the game, visit the official website here.
Review: Exiles End - PS4/Vita
- Overall - Not Bad - 5.8/105.8/10
Try it you love the genre, otherwise, I wouldn't rush out to pick this one up. For fans of Sci-fi and 2D Metroidvania platformers there's some enjoyment to be had to be had here, but what's there is fairly short lived and does little to differentiate itself from its peers in story or gameplay.
This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher. This has no effect on the content of the review or the final score. For more information, please see our review policy.