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Posted On 5/20/2012
The End is an odd beast: a combination of a platformer, a puzzle boardgame, a philosophical investigation of the nature of death, and a variant Myers Brigg map.
Funded by the UK's Channel 4 and developed by Preloaded, it was conceived as a way to engage teens and get them to think about life, death, belief, and science (I kid you not). Naturally, they created a platformer. That's the cynic speaking there; we've seen way too many "serious games" or "games for change" that take a theme and bolt it onto a game style that's totally inappropriate -- like, oh, Debt Ski. Surprisingly, however, The End works, on three different levels simultaneously.
As a platformer, it's decent, though the difficulty is tuned low. It has one unusual feature; you move through zones of shadow and darkness, and when in darkness, you can "use your light power," which can turn a shadow into a walkable platform. As soon as you emerge into light, however, the platform disappears, so you need to be careful with this. This obviously allows you to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
At the end of each level (there are 18), you find a key, which unlocks a battle. Before the battle, however, you are asked a question, dealing with issues of life and death, such as "Do you want to live forever?" or "Do you think animals understand death?"
Your answer is not relevant to the battle; the battle itself is a little puzzle boardgame, played on a hexagonal grid. You and the "monster" you are "battling" alternatively place hexes on the grid; each hex tile you place is printed with 3 numbers, each number associated with two of the sides of the hex. If you place a tile adjacent to an opposing one, and the number on the side facing it is greater than the number on that tile's side, the tile switches to your color. Once the grid is full, the player controlling more hexes wins. Winning unlocks a powerup to be used in later battles, and rewards you with a "death piece," nothing more than an image that gets added to your collection. It's not a bad little game; I think I've seen something like it before, but am not placing it.
The third aspect of the game is the "the Death Dial." This plots your answers on a plane divided into four sectors: Mystic, Awakener, Crusader, and Truth Teller. It also "locates" you on this plane, apparently by simply determining the average position of your answers, which is non-sensical; in reality, "Mystic" is not opposed to "Crusader," nor "Awakener" to "Truth Teller"; these are orthogonal concepts. Consequently, averaging these positions has no inherent validity. The Death Dial currently reports that I am a Mystic, positioned most closely to Joan of Arc which, you know, as a snarky and cynical scientific rationalist, I find fucken insulting. But anyway.
The whole works reasonably well, however: the darkness and light of the platformer provides a sense that the game occurs in the afterlife, and the "monsters" you fight comment on your philosophical choices, providing a sense of context there as well. And certainly there are few enough games that attempt to support a philosophical subtext.
The End is a nominee for the 2012 Games for Change Awards, in the "Most Significant Impact" and "Best Gameplay" categories.