Publisher: Future Friends Games
Genre(s): Adventure, Racing & Flying
Platform: Xbox Series X|S (also available on Xbox One and PC)
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Release Date: 18/11/21
A code was provided for review purposes
As I was gliding and rolling across one of the many planets, I kept asking myself why? This is the predominant question you’ll have when playing through Exo One. This indie, space-adventure has you traversing multiple planets in an advanced spacecraft as you try to find the meaning behind an alien signal.
Over the course of roughly 2-3 hours and multiple exotic landscapes, you’ll experience deeply satisfying and fluid gameplay, as you search for answers behind your journey. Is this interplanetary mission worth your time? Keep reading to find out!
The Truth is Out There
The story of Exo One is a strange one to be sure. Not much is known when beginning the game. You see, you’re drip-fed small tidbits of context about what is happening in between each level. You play as the sole survivor of a devastating event that occurred over Jupiter. Flying an advanced alien spacecraft, you now follow a signal and blue beams of light to their source. I do really like and appreciate the mystery aspect of the narrative.
It’s an adventure that will keep you guessing as you progress. The flashbacks you get in between the levels offer small insights in the form of crackling audio logs and brief images. You slowly gain an understanding of the tragic events leading up to the present time, including the origins of the high-tech spacecraft. Despite never seeing the protagonist, I felt invested in their plight. At its core, it’s a somber and lonely story, which is hammered home through the gameplay.
A really nice touch is the way in which the narrative and gameplay mesh. You quickly discover that the protagonist suffers from PTSD as a result of the Jupiter incident. In certain conditions, such as loud noises, or crashing through water, you’ll see flashes of Jupiter on screen. It’s a subtle feature that helps you understand their perspective. Exo One is a game where the story feels secondary to gameplay, but that’s not to say it isn’t still good. I don’t particularly like when a story is told through flashbacks, but I think it’s handled adequately here, especially as the game is not too long.
They See Me Rollin’
The gameplay loop in Exo One is fairly simple, but incredibly satisfying once you get the hang of it. You’ll be traversing multiple planets in an interesting bit of technology. This spacecraft is a unique and flexible machine that manipulates gravity to its advantage. Its default state is spherical, perfectly fit for rolling down hills and mountains on the surface of planets. By holding down the right trigger, you accelerate downwards, letting you build up momentum in order to soar great distances, even in this form.
However, due to its malleable design, it can quickly shift into a more flat shape to glide easily through the air. By holding the left trigger, it changes to this form, letting you stay in the sky for longer periods of time. But it doesn’t last forever. This requires gravitational energy in order to use, which is gained through descending to the surface. Alternating between these two forms is the crux to success. There are other aspects to take into consideration. Passing through wind currents or clouds will give you an automatic aerial boost, while the glide form can even skip across the surface of the water.
The mechanics are so well designed. Even early on in the game when you’re still getting to grips with the controls, it’s enjoyable and great to play. Once you fully understand what you’re doing and using both forms to their fullest, that’s when the gameplay shines. You’ll be soaring the heavens and rolling down hills so effortlessly and gracefully without even thinking about it. It’s brilliant! One thing that can let the experience down at times is the camera. It can often mess about and not keep up with the gameplay, especially in some levels later on.
Worlds To Explore
The level design really is a story of two halves. A lot of planets in the first half of the game are quite bland and monotonous. They kind of blend into one, not having much to distinguish them or make traversing them captivating. In contrast, the levels from later on are much more interestingly crafted. One has you hopping between large orbiting rocks with a blazing star close by, while another leaves you drifting through beautiful, fluffy clouds. It’s definitely atmospheric, to say the least.
I will say, if you’re like me and have a fear of deep/open water, then one level will be a struggle in particular. It’s pretty much completely covered in a deep ocean, with a few structures here and there for relief. While the ideal course of action is to skip across the surface, you will undoubtedly have to sink below before you can glide again. For a game that has a relaxing tone to it, this level has the opposite effect. I was left deeply uncomfortable and waiting for it to end.
Exo One can look quite gorgeous at times, especially with some of the more ethereal locations. Unfortunately, it’s plagued with unstable performance that’s quite distracting. Aside from some issues with frame rate, the frequent screen-tearing becomes a glaring eyesore. It’s a real shame, but it’s a pretty constant problem. This makes the game look rough, marring the visual potential. At least the music compliments the style of the game superbly. It’s very chill and calming.
The final moments of Exo One are ambiguous and left up to the player’s interpretation. This abstract identity persists throughout the adventure, but it’s the gameplay that truly stands out for me. Going from planet to planet, sliding down canyons only to ascend high in the sky, it never gets old. The developers nailed the mechanics in a way that makes the whole thing such a pleasure to control.
It’s disappointing that the technical side of things can let it down. A few dropped frames I can excuse, but the screen-tearing is just far too present throughout. The plot and its sci-fi mystery are indeed good, but it’s not what I’m going to remember here. As cliché as it sounds, Exo One really is a game that’s not about the destination but about the journey. To me, it’s a journey worth taking.
Rapid Reviews Rating
3.5 out of 5
You can purchase Exo One from the Microsoft Store here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.