Traveling in the skies of alien planets has never been so satisfying and intense as in Exo One, a little independent gem on Game Pass.
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a sphere rolling on the desert and steep terrain of a strange alien planet. Imagine that sphere leaping and changing shape turning into a disk capable of gliding over sand and rocks as it heads towards a strange beam of blue light that stands out on the horizon. Here, reopen your eyes and check out the Game Pass catalog, why what has just been described is the simple but very effective gameplay of Exo One, just released after a gestation that lasted five years.
It is a small project born from the efforts and boundless passion of Jay Weston, an independent developer who fought tooth and nail for five years to bring his idea to light. Exo One is what you get if you mix Marble Madness, Death Stranding (by the way, here’s our Death Stranding review) and Starfox 64 with Kubrick’s science fiction: a small little work capable of fascinating for all its three hours of duration.
Of alien freesbee and desolate scenery
As already mentioned, the structure of Exo One is particularly simple. It is a highly gravity-based exploratory flight video game, where you are called upon to control a strange shape-shifting object on the surface of desolate alien worlds. The goal is to cross the planets circling between sand dunes, infinite oceans and silent monolithic constructions, which seem to grow from the ground almost as if they were pests, to reach a beam of light that indicates the position of the gravitational accelerator useful for escape from one planet to another.
It is the story of a journey to the edge of the (un) known universe, a lysergic odyssey in a boundless sea of unknown stars and, for this very reason, terrifying. A sort of space Walking Simulator in which all you need to do is go from one point to another while observing in amazement the splendid landscapes in which you are immersed from time to time. Described in this way it might seem like an almost trivial experience, but don’t be fooled by appearances: Exo One is a real gem of game design capable of continually reinventing itself and that, by changing a small detail at a time, is able to generate always different emotions.
Of astral travel and changing spaces
In themselves, the movement and flight systems return a precise and relaxing feeling, but as the scenario in which one is catapulted changes, the general atmosphere also changes, transforming what was originally an almost Zen experience into a sort of trip in which the keystone is the emotional intensity with which one faces the journey.
There is a big difference between carefree gliding over a planet entirely covered in water and defying the crazed gravity of an asteroid orbiting a star that appears to be about to explode. It is a difference dictated by the total solitude in which one is immersed, which makes certain mid-air evolutions pacifying and transforms contact with specific hostile alien landscapes into a daydream to be experienced with your heart in your throat. After all, you arrive exhausted by the incredible intensity of the experience, which among other things gives its best if lived in a single session. The secret of Exo One is that superficially it seems a trivial and limited work, but what a pad in hand it reveals a communicative power that is at times impressive.
Of frightened men and cryptic narratives
To all this is added a last fundamental layer: the narrative. Yes, why Exo One is not just a space drift simulator, but also and above all a story told with great wisdom. A cryptic plot that reveals itself slowly in an initially unintelligible way.
During the high-altitude meditation sessions proposed by Jay Weston, in fact, it often happens that, beating hard against the ground or diving under the surface of the water, short flashes of what seem like a person’s memories appear on the screen. A human being in a video game without humans which seems connected to the small spaceship / freesbee, which represents, on balance, the absolute protagonist of the game.
We will not delve into the story both because it deserves to be experienced firsthand and because it opens up to a large number of possible interpretations. That of Exo One is a cryptic but extremely suggestive narration, which takes place only thanks to rumors filtered by a radio transmission far away in space and time and to a photo reproposed on the screen over and over again. The beauty of the game’s narrative streak is that it almost emerges as if it were a system glitch, precisely because it seems particularly disconnected from the gameplay. Seeing the pieces fall into place in the end is very satisfying.
The only real problem with the whole game is that, given the simplicity of its mechanics and the fundamental importance of total immersion in its atmospheres, There should have been more careful work with the camera, which sometimes gets stuck in a somewhat confusing and annoying way. Exo One is probably not one of the most incredible independent video games of the year, but it is an adventure that really deserves to be experienced precisely because it is as intense as few. A different but very successful game in which what makes the difference is the sense of dizziness that takes the stomach from the first moment.