In The End, a surreal new puzzle platforming adventure from Channel 4 and Preloaded (with writing by Tom Chatfield and music by Phonotheque), the world goes out with a bang one sunny afternoon and you find yourself trapped in a bizarre shadow realm watched over by enormous otherworldly beings. There, between being sassed by monster-driven flesh golems and exploring the strange, puzzle-laden worlds, you might just discover a little bit about yourself in the process. Parents are advised that while the actual gameplay is tame, some of the concepts talked about might be a bit heavy for younger children.
At the start of the game, you'll create a character to be your avatar, and from then on the gameplay is fairly straight-forward. [AS] or the left and right [arrow] keys moves around, the [spacebar] jumps, [E] turns your special shadow power on and off, and [W] or the up [arrow] is used to interact with switches, open doors, or climb ladders. Most of the gameplay is fairly straightforward; you explore three different realms, collecting stars for special challenges, and answering questions designed to make you think about your personality a little more. After each level, however, you'll have to challenge the realm's guardian to a game of Death Cards, a simple but tricky strategy game where you vie for dominance over a board by placing numbered cards on a grid and trying to flip your opponent's pieces with higher numbers. Win, and you'll be granted an object that represents a philosophical concept and allowed to proceed. Fail, and... well, just try again.
While the game is entirely free and primarily single player, if you don't want to connect your Facebook account to take advantage of the social features, you'll need to give the game an e-mail address to let it generate a unique code to save your progress and continue your game from any computer.
Analysis: Simply put, The End looks fantastic. The art design by Luke Pearson is pretty spectacular in a way that conjures up memories of old MTV cartoons or Rocco's Modern Life spliced with Doctor Seuss, and does an amazing job of crafting the characters and the environment. But while I've always been a big advocate of using games as a means to make us think about deeper personal emotions and issues, it feels like The End doesn't quite combine its philosophical bent with its gameplay. The bulk of the game is standard run-jump-die puzzle platforming that someone interrupts every once in a while to ask you personal questions without much of a narrative to tie the two together.
This is not, however, a critical strike against the game itself. The platforming puzzles are somewhat let down by some frustratingly stiff movement, but manage to become more creative and challenging as you proceed. The card battle is implemented in a wonderfully simple fashion that, along with the power-ups you'll earn, can lead to some satisfyingly strategic gameplay without overwhelming the player with rules and difficulty. A beautifully presented attempt to get you to consider aspects of life you might not normally think about, The End is both strange and strangely satisfying, and I mean that in the best possible way.