You wake up. It seemed like a dream, but no … it was real. That interplanetary trip that ended in lethal form served to learn. And there you are, ready for a new trip. You know that you will die again, but it is the price to pay for launching into the unknown. No one said it was easy, or safe. We discovered it in our analysis of Outer Wilds, another of the surprises of the year.
More than 50 years have passed since the Stanley Kubrick space opera, but we still have in the retina that scene of almost ten minutes in which Dr. David Bowman saw before his eyes an endless galactic journey. That colossal film representation of the unlimited and mysterious character of the universe that made 2001: A space odyssey is one of the keys to understanding what the developers of Mobius have done in their video game.
Outer Wilds is a temporary loop. The first time I rode in the spacecraft to travel into space, I was absorbed by the sun’s gravity. Once again I ended up crashing against some lunar rocks because of the uncontrolled speed of the ship. On another occasion, I was the victim of a supernova that caught me in the middle of an intergalactic trip. In the game, death is the central dynamic of experience, it happens sooner or later, as a teaching, as a consequence of something as dangerous as launching oneself into the exploration of the unknown. On the trip back to your starting point, all your experiences appear fleetingly before your eyes. As a reminder, like that psychedelic show that Kubrick captured in his famous film.
That’s what this video game is about: repeating the attempt over and over again, contributing a small grain of sand to the knowledge of what’s up there every time we put on our spacesuit. And although it is a solar system very different from ours (the protagonist is an alien), I think there is no more accurate way to represent what it means to discover the secrets of the universe. Fail, try again, and with the accumulated effort of many trips, understand what is around us. In the end, this is what the human being has been doing since he stepped on the Moon.
Exploration and survival in a loopback game in Outer Wilds can last five minutes, fifteen, or maybe half an hour. I would not know how to give a figure, nor a mean. Does it matter? No. Here the important thing is to go further and further, or at least try to reach the unknown and understand the secrets of a mysterious race that seems to possess the keys of the solar system in which we live. Our character has in his ship a computer in which he keeps his memories, his findings, like the detective who has plagued the wall of post-its, thumbtacks with photos and strings that link the different elements of the equation.
Discover the enigma of the universe, that is our end. Go out there and play our lives in an adventure of exploration and survival. Our ship can break down and leave us lying on some planet, with no possibility of returning. We can run out of oxygen, fuel … or end up swallowed by some monster. There are many types of deaths that you can experience (more epic, more blushing), but also the possibilities that are offered to us to stand out there as much as possible.
It makes you want to return again and again to the game to discover what the hell is happening
One of the most striking tools is a tracker that tells us the direction in which we can find a beacon, or maybe a lost explorer. There are several subhistories present, with many dialogues (in Spanish), which help us to assemble the narrative puzzle on which Outer Wilds is based. There is a decoder to decrypt the messages of an ancestral race that reminds the Metroid Prime scanner, and also a drone that takes photographs, which serves to detect – and thus avoid – lethal energy clouds. For some reason, the galaxy dies and something strange happens with the space-time relationship. It is an interesting and absorbing, premise that makes you want to return again and again to the game to discover what the hell is going on.
In the end, that is what makes Mobius’s work great. And surprisingly, because until now they had not dared with any development, let’s say, great. They had worked on mobile phones, but now they have launched an open-world adventure because, in the end, this is going from planet to planet in true No Man’s Sky style. Not at your level, because here there is no looting or crafting. It is much more narrative, but still interesting, with a lot of backgrounds.
Also with charm. Visually, it may not be a wonder, and it shows a modest production budget. Environments at low resolution, little detail in textures … and performance that on Xbox One weakens a lot (it’s hard to maintain a stable frame rate). Still, there are beautiful scenes: the moment when the planets align to form an eclipse or the descent to a planet whose atmosphere is giving way to the mountains suppose precious moments, really unforgettable.
This is linked to the powerful sound environment: the silence of space, with our breathing in the background (sometimes critical for the lack of oxygen), generates situations of certain anguish. However, what predominates is the tranquility, the journey resting in a galactic environment with an omnipresent aura of mystery. That is perfectly portrayed in a game with hardly any presence of the soundtrack, but with chords that appear at specific moments in order to set the mood for this great interplanetary trip. You get to thinking, playing Outer Wilds if you could get to discover more about the mysteries of our own universe, even if it’s not about the same planets that we have around us, even if it does not have much to do … Or maybe yes? I leave you to discover it in an atypical exploration and survival video game, of those that are worth trying, at least, to ask us the question. Answers I do not promise you to find, or do you know someone who has them?
Outer Wilds is a conceptual genius that with more budget would have aspired to something perhaps not as ambitious as its premise (discover the secrets of the universe), but to become an excellent work. Still, we must recognize, like its protagonist, the courage to launch into the unknown to give us a unique exploration and survival game, with a masterful concept of using the loop as a playable dynamic. Try it. It is one of those games that until you play them, you can not say if you like them.
- The idea of the time loop is ingenious and fits the game design
- Sense of omnipresent mystery: you always feel the need to play more
- Interesting narrative, very well taken and that fits with the gameplay
- The good visual and sound ambiance, which makes you feel lost in space
- It lacks a greater graphic detail in the representation of the planets
- Low polished finish, with some frame-rate problems