Playing through Exile’s End feels like a blast from the past. Its 2D side scrolling gameplay evokes the classic gameplay we grew up with, while its science-fiction story is tired and outdated by today's standards. It borrows ideas from well-established genre’s, but never accomplishes anything great to make it stand out on its own.
Exile's End's story is plays out like a 70’s sci-fi thriller. You play as a washed up mercenary who is contracted by a mining company to investigate one of their operations on an alien planet. After an unexpected crash landing, you learn that the operation taking place has gone awry, an all to familiar beginning that left me bored and wanting. The story is told through small cut scenes that take place only a few times throughout the whole game. The dialogue between characters during the scenes is so vague and uninteresting that it gets in the way of communicating what's going on to the player. The game unfolds in a way that is very predictable, and leaves little room for any real mystery in the narrative, a disappointing move given the magic of some of the more classic sci-fi tropes.
The game takes you through several different areas including a forest, a mining facility, and even a castle like area. All of which are backdrops that are not exactly awe inspiring. The color palette is pretty standard and doesn’t go out of its way to capture the eye. However, the game does do well with its music. Each area has its own specific music that makes it easy to recognize when your entering a new area. There are times in which the game does create a genuinely eerie atmosphere. They do this through casting a simple red glow on the screen from emergency lights in the mining facility, and have a few musical tones that make you feel uneasy as your exploring.
The gameplay is your traditional 2-dimensional, action, side scroller, which has a great nostalgic feel reminiscent of Metroid and Mega Man from the NES or even some modern titles like Axiom Verge. Whether you are dodging enemy bullets or jumping around the environment platforming, the controls feel great. You start out with no weapons and collect them throughout the game. Weapons range from a simple pistol and sub-machine gun to experimental alien weaponry. While these weapons do look cool, they don’t exactly change the way you play, making them feel like they’re not very special.
Enemies start out as men in suits like the protagonist, but eventually they start to branch out into more unique looks. However, there are only a few different enemy attacks, which leads to handling every enemy pretty much the same, including the bosses. Those don't even appear until the later portions of Exile's End.
The level design is something the game does well. Each area has a good sense of verticality, encouraging players to explore every area of the map looking for secrets. There are different upgrades and weapons that are not all necessary for you to beat the game, but it does make things easier if you find them.
Throughout the game you collect different upgrades for your power suit including a rebreather for underwater areas or jump boosters that allow you to double jump higher than before. As you collect these upgrades it allows you access to areas you may have previously been unable to reach. This type of metroidvania style design leaves the player feeling fulfilled as they reach new areas thanks to their new piece of equipment. It also feels great to connect the dots in your brain in regards to backtracking to old areas. There are also a few different puzzles in the game that add for an interesting twist. These puzzles are simple enough to solve fairly quickly, but left me feeling accomplished as I progress through each one.
Exile’s End is a game full of ideas that have already been done before. From a narrative standpoint this leaves the game feeling predictable, shallow and uninspired. While from a gameplay standpoint, it captures the feeling of a classic 2D action side scroller that is a blast to play. If your entering this game for a thought provoking story with interesting twist and turns, you will be disappointed. If you go into expecting a classic gameplay style that feels great to return to, then you will be pleased.