An unfortunately accurate title.
At the start of Endurance, the player is presented with a splash screen of text from the developer, who seems to be a lone programmer named Ivan. This initial opening is more telling than a simple note of thanks for playing their game. For better and worse, Endurance feels like the product of a lone designer, unfettered from secondary voices in their game design, and also producing a product without the polish and attention that larger teams can afford.
Endurance itself is set on a Nostromo-like spaceship, one of a plethora of pop culture references throughout the game that feel jarring and out of place. The player takes the role of one of several choices of characters, all of whose first names are variants on the name Sam – Sammie, Samantha, and so on. After an initial flash forward showing a trail of corpses and a lifeless ship, the game jumps back to three days earlier, putting control into the player’s hands and tasking them to discover what has happened on the ship.
The game itself is a top down shooter in the now ubiquitous pixel art style, with the left stick used for movement, and the right used to rotate the axis that the protagonist’s gun is aimed at in the environment. Shooting is on bumpers rather than triggers, which feels an odd decision – one of the first of many. One unique aspect is that it claims RPG elements, which in reality, boils down to levelling several different attributes such as speed, shield and health regeneration and ‘trap detection’. That last attribute exposes one of the great frustrations with the game: as the player progresses through levels, invisible traps, often on ground tiles, chip away at their health. All of these attributes can be increased with credits claimed from killing the rogue members of the player’s ship who appear to have been possessed by some type of alien life form. In addition, the player can also spend credits to restore their own health – something that is likely to be far more common than any stat-building. Enemies are often bullet sponges, and bosses moreso. They move faster than the player and the game demonstrates a ‘challenge’ by throwing numerous villains at the player in tight corridors – also causing significant slowdown.
The shooting itself feels floaty and weightless, and player movement equally so; even choosing the speediest starting character resulted in slow trudges through generic looking corridors. Once again, the spectre of the lone developer rears its head as there is essentially no variation between the aesthetics of differing floors of the ship, just the layouts. Progress is often laboriously slow, not simply due to the speed of the character, but also the endless backtracking necessitated to open doors to progress to new areas – areas that are identikit cut outs of the previous one.
We need to talk about that gun rotation, though – likely once again a result of the fact that the game was the product of one person. Each character is made up of pixel art sprites and crudely animates as they make their way through the ship. The guns, however, appear to be separate sprites that are layered on top of the character art. Therefore rotating the gun around the axis reveals a secondary pair of hands lurking below on the main character model. It is quite a jarring sight, and one that provided no end of hilarity and Switch video clips to share.
Sound design is similarly slight, with generic rattles and hums of the ship, along with sounds of different guns. To be fair to the game, the lack of detailed audio design actually does serve the atmosphere of the game, and the desire to mimic Alien, somewhat positively.
Alien is not the only reference in the game, and it seems that Ivan has been keen to put in as many pop culture references as they can throughout the game. Once again, these feel somewhat out of place and remove any of the isolating and unsettling atmosphere the game is conversely trying to create. A visit through a stasis hold reveals an Arthur Dent in a tank, an NPC ponders aloud if the 200 year anniversary episode of Friends will be on Netflix, and at one point, the main character quotes from an Audioslave song, apropos of nothing. I’m not sure what was worse here – the fact that this once again pulled me from the fiction, or the fact that I got the reference immediately. It also appears that English is not the first language of the developer, and although there is nothing overt, some dialogue features strange grammatical choices that once again remove the player from any form of immersion.
It’s hard to recommend Endurance, particularly at the price, given that so much of it feels unfinished, and cheap. It is very possible to brute force through the game, solely using credits to restore health, but there is little satisfaction here. Plaudits to the sole developer for creating the game, but this alone is not enough to warrant any type of recommendation.