End Night [$2.99] puts you in control of one of two survivors of an undead apocalypse. Not zombies, quite, but something horrifying. It's a dark, claustrophobic game with a few roguelike elements. With limited ammo, health packs and sanity, you must head out into the abandoned town, breaking into houses, collecting samples of the infection and hoping to turn them into a serum that will let you rebuild the world of the living.
The view is top-down, with the camera pulled in just a little too close for comfort. The controls are slightly awkward - a left stick for walking, and buttons on the right for firing (not aiming—you can't miss), inventory and interaction. You can't interact while you're moving. The music is ambient, and can't be disabled, sounds are sparse. It's clunky, not ideal, except that it serves to create a sense of unease. You can't see or hear the creatures until they burst out of the dark toward you. You can't grab a health pack without stopping and fending off the horde.
You start out armed with your choice of a pistol, shotgun or axe. The axe doesn't rely on limited resources, but using it means standing toe to toe with the creatures. The shotgun is accurate and deadly, but its ammo is very hard to come by. The pistol has range and (sort of) plentiful ammo, but isn't accurate enough to kill most creatures until they're right up close. Still, I always take the pistol. You can't risk ending up unarmed, and you can always find the others around town.
Death is permanent. If you get yourself killed, your mission is over and you must start again from the beginning. You earn points for everything you find, every creature you kill, every step in your quest that you complete. You can use those points to improve your stats, making your next life just a little easier.
Resources are very limited, and some are placed randomly: there will not always be a health pack in this medicine cabinet, or food in that fridge. The randomness, you'll come to learn, is fairly limited - a disappointment, in my opinion. If you risk breaking into the police station, you'll always find ammo and armor. If you make it to the grocer, there will always be food. One neighbor is always deeply religious. Another, thankfully, is fond of coffee. Buildings, sample locations and certain resources are shown on the readily-available map.
You'll thank your deceased neighbors for hoarding, because every resource is precious. Ammo and health are obvious, but you also need to worry about your emotional state. Killing monsters that were once townspeople makes you remorseful (though try as I might, I never did die of remorse), something you can cure with bibles or booze. Those things make you tired, so you'll need to find coffee. And should you get too spattered with the gore of creatures you've killed, you'll need to wash. Every home has a bathtub, though you won't always like what you'll find in them.
End Night stands out for being truly chilling. As a shooter it's somewhat clunky, visually it's dark and repetitive. But there's a feeling of dread that accompanies the tight view, the sudden sounds. The things you find in some of the homes will haunt you. It's amazing how distant a house across the street feels when the undead are on your trail. While there's no real story to speak of, the creators channeled some of the creepier elements of I am Legend to great effect. You'll wonder whether you're in the right even as you mow down creature after creature. Play in the dark if you can—if nothing else, it will make it much easier to see what's going on.
Where End Night fails is in providing a reason to keep playing. The pretense toward randomness is promising, but once you've improved your stats and put together your final cure there's really not much call to replay the game. You do unlock a more difficult Nightmare mode when you finish, but there's nothing novel about the game by that point. Perhaps Game Center integration could improve this if it were added, but this is probably a one-and-done sort of game.
Still, for that one play through (and every failed attempt that leads up to it), the game is impressive. It does the wide genre of undead apocolypse games proud. And I'm all for compact experiences, especially emotionally evocative ones. Kicking through your neighbors' doors, scavenging while the forces of undeath run at you, this is tense fun for the one or two hours it lasts. If that's enough for you, then dive into the gore, ready to run. If you make it out alive, I'm sure our discussion thread would love to hear from you.
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