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