Space has always had its claws in me: the overall beauty of its expansiveness, a sort of meditative feeling of being so small. I think that’s what initially drew me to Exo One a few years back when it was first revealed.
The demo that came a bit after sold me on the overall concept, but did the game live up to the lofty expectations that I set?
Exo One has you controlling a peculiar sphere-shaped object that has the ability to control relative gravity to gain speed and transform into a disc for flight. A limited control-scheme, with the added camera movement you’d expect, elicits the initial assumption of a severe lack of complexity. But as you’d imagine for a game set in space, it allows you to focus on the beautiful landscapes you’ll trek across for the next couple of hours.
Space and all of its exoplanetary objects are simply stunning. Exo One did an amazing job in capturing all of its hope, wonder and at times, despair. For a game to emit such emotion is a feat unto itself, especially when lacking a typical protagonist/antagonist theme. Unlike most games, you feel far more like an observer as actions unfold across time. Little more than a hand flipping the next page. It feels as if it takes inspiration from some of the best games with a similar control scheme: games like Flow, Flower and (to an extent) Journey. It really drew me back into my time with Flower, though. The premise behind the two are quite different, but their overall DNA felt similar. A lack of typical storytelling was the perfect way to leave just enough up to interpretation.
As a game, Exo One’s loop is quite straightforward. Get your ship from where it is to the bright blue beam that will propel you onto the next planet. A direct path, that is really anything but. Especially at the beginning of your journey, your vehicle can only glide for a short time. Through exploration, you’ll gain power ups to extend your glide time. These are usually along your intended journey, so you don’t often have to go out of your way to upgrade the prowess of your vehicle.
The overall journey takes you through a handful of biomes, each one more breathtaking than the last. From slightly barren, to lush forests and expansive oceans (and more), the wonder of what was next was the string that just had to be pulled. A couple planets also offered slightly different ways to utilize your ships abilities. I’ll keep those unspoiled because they allow for “ah-ha” moments that are best experienced with fresh eyes.
Exo One also works to weave a storyline throughout your adventure. Flashes of photos and gibberish of astronauts talking are interspersed between your travels. Like most sci fi, a lot is left to interpretation. I wish it had wrapped up the story just a tad more than it did. It leaves things a little bit too open-ended for my liking.
Where I was a tad unsure of its overall exposition, the same cannot be said for its soundtrack and all the little touches that were present that fleshed out an already beautiful trek.
Sound and sci-fi really go hand in hand. I can’t think of a memorable sci-fi film that wasn’t accompanied by a soundtrack of its equal. One elevates the other, and Exo One unequivocally follows that trend. An OST that not only perfectly encapsulates the journey, but also one that is fresh. Rhys Lindsay was able to create something with such care that it never overpowered a scene, but effortlessly elevated each and every one. The environmental sounds were also a marvel.
The sound of ice pelting off your ship as it begins to visibly freeze over. The whoosh as you dive down to gain speed. The crinkly noise as you begin to lose energy and are forced back into a ball form. This is one of those games where discovery happens at a micro and macro scale.
Exo One straddles that line between game and experience. It’s simplistic control scheme allows for deep integration into this meditative adventure. Its remarkable art direction found its perfect complement with a stunning score. A spectacle for the eyes and ears, Exo One is more than worth your time. And yes, you should wear headphones.