Exo One

PC

EDGE - - GAMES -

Dur­ing a test run that dou­bles as a tu­to­rial, an ex­per­i­men­tal manned space probe called Exo One is pulled into a worm­hole and lost for­ever. You take the role of the pi­lot of this doomed craft in a twohour ex­pe­ri­ence in­spired by 2001: A Space Odyssey and In­ter­stel­lar. De­posited on the sur­face of an alien world, you roll, leap and glide to­wards a huge alien in­stal­la­tion on the hori­zon that projects a beam of blue light sky­wards. The beam pro­pels you into an­other worm­hole and, through it, an­other alien world – and then an­other, and an­other. The game’s lone de­vel­oper Jay We­ston cites Jour­ney as a key in­flu­ence, and lit­tle won­der: Exo One builds a sim­i­larly evoca­tive sense of travel out of sim­ple parts.

The Exo One probe takes the form of a slick black sphere which you roll with the left ana­logue stick. Hold­ing a but­ton in­creases the ef­fect of grav­ity on the sphere, caus­ing you to slow down on flat sur­faces or in­clines but al­low­ing you to pick up speed while rolling down a slope. Con­tact with the ground grad­u­ally builds up en­ergy, which is rep­re­sented by a dif­fused glow within the sphere it­self. En­ergy can be ex­pended to jump, in­clud­ing a dou­ble jump, and to flat­ten the sphere out into a disc in or­der to glide. The sys­tem re­wards tim­ing and good judge­ment with a sense of es­ca­lat­ing mo­men­tum. Lean into a de­scent and you can both charge the probe and pick up speed be­fore leap­ing at the apex of the next hill to shoot up into the air. Your task then is to find a suit­able place to break your fall with­out sac­ri­fic­ing speed, which means find­ing a slope (ide­ally one roughly fac­ing the di­rec­tion of the next trans­port beam) and steer­ing to­wards it. Yet mid-air con­trol also slows you down, so the

trick is to move as lit­tle as pos­si­ble – to avoid over­think­ing it, if you can.

Tiny Wings and Tribes are im­por­tant touch­stones for Exo One, but both of those games used a move­ment sys­tem like this in a com­pet­i­tive con­text. Tiny Wings is a sin­gle­player race: fail­ure, mean­ing loss of mo­men­tum, ends the game and your run.

Tribes is tra­di­tion­ally a game of cap­ture the flag, where un­der­stand­ing how to tra­verse each map as quickly as pos­si­ble is the key to scor­ing points. Exo One takes away those stakes and in do­ing so re­veals the med­i­ta­tive qual­ity of th­ese me­chan­ics. You’re play­ing with a ball, af­ter all.

It’s a nat­u­ral fit for a game with Jour­ney’s struc­ture. Con­trol­ling the probe is in­volved enough to keep you en­gaged, but that en­gage­ment takes place in the deep mam­malian part of your brain that has al­ways liked rolling a ball around and prob­a­bly al­ways will. This frees up your other fac­ul­ties to ab­sorb ev­ery­thing else about Exo One, from its landscapes to its light­ing, voiceover and sound de­sign.

The in­tro­duc­tory sec­tion of the game we play takes place over two words, each scat­tered with hills, ravines, shal­low wa­ter, and loom­ing alien obelisks. The fi­nal game will fea­ture stranger places than th­ese – gas gi­ants and oceans are men­tioned – but even in th­ese ter­res­trial set­tings, Exo One looks phe­nom­e­nal. Rolling ter­rain is en­hanced by ground-level fog that rushes ahead of the probe, scat­ter­ing the light of a low sun. Film grain con­nects the game to the sci-fi cin­ema that so clearly influences it, soft­en­ing edges and help­ing to tie dis­parate parts into a sin­gle evoca­tive im­age. Each en­vi­ron­ment is sub­tly re­ac­tive in ways that are in­tended to be dis­cov­ered as you play. Light­ning, drawn to the probe as you steer through a storm, maxes out your en­ergy me­ter for a short du­ra­tion. Achieve enough height to break the cloud layer and el­e­vated air cur­rents can give you a boost of speed in glide mode. On the ground, clouds of glow­ing alien spores scat­ter as you ap­proach.

Though ma­nip­u­lat­ing th­ese ef­fects isn’t nec­es­sary to progress, they’re in­tended to re­ward ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and to pro­vide each world with its own dis­tinct char­ac­ter. This will be cru­cial when it comes to main­tain­ing the game’s pace: lack­ing a Jour­ney- style mul­ti­player twist, in­ven­tive and in­ter­ac­tive en­vi­ron­ments will be key to sus­tain­ing in­ter­est over that two-hour run­ning time.

Exo One is cur­rently slated for re­lease on PC, al­though We­ston is con­sid­er­ing other plat­forms if there’s suf­fi­cient de­mand. Hope­fully that’ll prove to be the case: given its re­laxed form of play and cin­e­matic pre­sen­ta­tion, Exo One could find a wel­com­ing home on con­sole too.

The sys­tem re­wards tim­ing and good judge­ment with a sense of es­ca­lat­ing mo­men­tum

Flat­ten­ing Exo One into a disc al­lows you to sus­tain air­time, but slows you down. De­pend­ing on your ap­proach, a se­ries of grav­ity-en­hanced leaps might be prefer­able

ABOVE En­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects are key to Exo One’s sense of place. Rush­ing clouds, mist and rain evoke for­bid­ding alien at­mos­pheres. Dis­tant mon­u­ments help to pre­vent you from get­ting lost in th­ese vast landscapes

TOP LEFT We­ston says he will likely re­work the tu­to­rial, which cur­rently has you ac­cel­er­at­ing the probe to ter­mi­nal ve­loc­ity in an in­door test­ing area.

Ex­oOne’s most ef­fec­tive teach­ing takes place out in the world.

ABOVE Ex­oOne is about a jour­ney, but it isn’t re­quired that you un­der­take that jour­ney as quickly as pos­si­ble. Stop­ping to ex­plore or to tin­ker with re­ac­tive en­vi­ron­ments is as much of a draw as the thrill of rapid move­ment

LEFT Reach­ing each mono­lith pro­pels you through an­other worm­hole in a se­quence straight out of 2001. Dur­ing th­ese jumps, the nar­ra­tor pro­vides ad­di­tional con­text for the pi­lot’s one-way jour­ney

Light­ing, sound and par­ti­cle ef­fects are used to com­mu­ni­cate not only a sense of speed, but also the sta­tus of Exo One it­self. When play­ing in third­per­son, there’s no on-screen clut­ter to dis­tract from the alien worlds around you

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