I think space is poorly represented; And no, I don’t mean that in the sense where sci-fi barely exists in video games. At this point I feel like I review a sci-fi title at least once a month (side note: sci-fi title of the month is Stellaris‘s DLC). What I mean is it is rare for me to find a sci-fi title that captures the likely to be absurd, incomprehensible and peculiar nature it holds, as it is vast enough and our knowledge of space comparatively limited that exposed to the full depths we’d likely be bamboozled. So when I had a trailer of Exo One dumped into my inbox, in all its wonderfully atmospheric glory, I was excited to give it a spin. After giving it a try, I managed to arrange an interview with developer Jay Weston to talk about it, which you can watch the interview below.
“So, what is Exo One”? Already I find myself taking glances at the door, wondering if I can escape before you reach for the tranquilliser. There are two types of games that journalists (especially the reviewer sorts) hate to describe: The ones that are difficult to describe, often due to being rather nebulous and vague, or ones that sound horrid on paper. Exo One is, to be blunt, both. Not a criticism actually, just something to consider if your brain starts trying to melt itself so it can escape out your nose.
Exo One has you rolling about on planets trying to find an exit, often in the form of spotting a noticeable light and going towards it Poltergeist-style. Although this isn’t done in the generic “point stick to roll that way, win when you arrive” deal, at least beyond in the steering department, instead you’ll be switching on 10x gravity or turning off to embrace 1x gravity. Considering how many craters litter planets, you’ll be building up a lot of speed quickly as you increase gravity as you go down slopes.
As you do, you’ll begin to glow as your movement builds up energy. Get enough, and you can change your ball into a gliding disc while in the air, collapsing back into a ball once you use up all your energy.
So we arrive at that “Papers Please” moment that I hinted at earlier: That to an outsider this could sound like a tedious experience. In this case, it suspiciously sounds like a spherical walking simulator (I’d say “platformer”, but there is no platforming as far as I can tell).
The reality is Exo One carries an atmosphere so thick you could choke on it. The movement in the two levels I tried acted less as a challenge and more of a soothing flow to it. There is just something so pleasing about leaping from crater to crater, using the 10x gravity to land just right as to pick up more speed, and then hurling yourself into the air before gliding across the land. The satisfaction of the flow in Exo One is something almost primal or subconscious. I really can’t put my finger on it why it is so relaxing and gratifying to utilise the gravity and gliding just right.
Although, I can take a swing and suggest the environment is partially to blame. As my intro likely suggests, the environments are alien yet plausible. Perhaps the absurdity of what you look upon is greater due to the believability of the land? Either way, it isn’t the major parts that sell the planets. It’s the smaller touches. It is the rain, the flicker of dust and the arrangement of clouds in an unfamiliar coloured sky. It is also the lighting, emphasising not only how barren the world you’re in is but also the unusual nature of the land itself.
The major parts help though, and the most noticeable parts is what look like man-made structures. Each structure jutting out the land somehow simultaneously reminds you that something came before you and yet you are totally alone. Your ball being a tiny speck dwarfed by a civilisation gone, nudging at possibilities of who they were which only serve to emphasis how little you know. These serve to back up a narrative that embraces the cosmic absurdity of deep space. I’d love to delve in more, but, well, even the flickers I witnessed I’d love to keep a secret for now.
So based on what I’ve seen, I’m very impressed and curious to see more. Albeit in the sort of way where I understand if it doesn’t mesh, especially as it seems to lack a failure state, but I’m personally interested to see how deep this sci-fi tunnel goes. Especially as it feels rooted in reality, and yet emphasises just how little we know of places far from us. It isn’t hopeful or optimistic like Mass Effect, it isn’t curious of the possibilities like Stellaris, Exo One is deliciously cosmically absurd (with a splash of reminding you how insignificant you are in the great schemes of things thrown in) and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
If you want to check out Exo One, which has a strong 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe with a heavy dose of science-fiction (as opposed to science-fantasy), you can check it out on their website here. It will hopefully be getting a release at some point in 2017 onto PC.