| Last updated
Exo One, newly added to Xbox Game Pass (and also on PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store), is the kind of indie gaming experience that’ll have some players questioning whether it’s a game at all. Is it art? Absolutely. Is it playable? Yes, obviously. Are there achievements? Sure, but when they pop up they rather shatter the mood. You don’t do a lot in it - but every control you input really matters, as you roll and glide a morphing orb of burning light across celestial landscapes beyond the lenses of our grandest telescopes.
Much like Tiny Birds (remember that?) progress across the beguiling alien environs of Exo One is achieved by using gravity to your advantage. You’ll hold the right trigger on your controller to plunge downwards to terra firma, building incredible, sometimes sonic-boom-blasting velocity; and then launch yourself from upslopes and glide through multicoloured clouds and otherworldly rainstorms using the left trigger. There’s a handy double-jump function for when you’re grounded and want to gain a little air, which can also be used to lightly extend glide times, which expire when the fiery light inside your mysterious vessel - early on, we’re told it has no cockpit for a human pilot - crackles out.
Watch the launch trailer for Exo One below
Sometimes you can plunge beneath waves, when you’re not skimming over them like a smooth pebble, and rush back towards the surface, breaking through and racing towards new heights, almost climbing back to the stars. At others, the conditions around you can be used to increase your speed and range, as you steer your craft to be carried on jets of flame and gusts of wind. Sometimes these atmospheres are particularly inclement, damn near deadly (not that you can be destroyed), so you’ll need to take action when the as-the-crow-flies route from A to B becomes impassable.
And that’s in, controls wise. Destination wise, each planet you navigate has a point on it where you are flung to another world: a beam of light projected from a tower, angling into the atmosphere, that will carry you beyond these heavens and into the surreal climes of somewhere else entirely. There’s no explicit, HUD-shown waypointing - the game assumes you’ll figure out that the Big Light In The Sky is a beacon that you should head towards. Optional power-ups can be found, and your proximity to one will be flagged on screen - collect these to extend your glide time. You will want to do that, sooner than later.
Between each world, and often during your time on them, snippets of story will be revealed regarding the fate of a crew lost somewhere above Jupiter. Exo One isn’t big on plot, mostly leaving you to soar and explore, and simply escape our Earth for a while; but each clip of muffled communication and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it frame of Jupiter and a photograph of the ill-fated astronauts is compelling enough to keep you journeying to the next transportative tower. There are echoes of Nolan’s Interstellar throughout, of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and even Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey - but no cinematic influence is worn in such a way that the player feels they’ve seen this before. And you’ve definitely not seen or played this before.
At its very best, Exo One is a melancholic meditation on the mechanics of momentum, an ambient beauty burnished by C-beams glittering in an eternal, unending, uncaring darkness. It has little absolute precedent - Tiny Wings is, as mentioned, a gameplay touchstone but it’s more distant cousin than close relation, whereas the player’s flow through stages can echo thatgamecompany’s spellbinding petals-on-the-breeze sim, Flower. Its stark surroundings recall the artistic boldness of JETT: The Far Shore from earlier in 2021, though the threat level here is minimised to nought (save some small navigational frustrations). Its gentle music ripples at the senses, a cautious complement to physics-powered propulsion, the effect occasionally akin to being inside a Brian Eno album: Music for Spaceports, anyone?
And at its worst it’s still a more fascinating, firmly and fiercely uncompromised vision of what video games can be, how video games can make an audience feel, than the nth FPS or third-person ‘em up with a minor twist on the last. It is, obviously, not for everyone - but if you’re a Game Pass subscriber, give an hour of your time to Exo One. Many games claim to be a journey, but few ever really take you anywhere and leave you lost and confused and perfectly content. This game? This game really does go places.
Exo One is out now for Xbox consoles and PC, and available on Xbox Game Pass. Code for this coverage was provided by the publishers, Future Friends Games.
Chosen for YouChosen for You
Most Read StoriesMost Read