‘Exo One’ review: a melancholy trip through the lonely cosmos

See you space cowboy

Gliding across a picturesquely alien landscape, it occurs to me that Exo One joins a very exclusive list of titles. There are a handful of games where the science of physics – instead of being crammed behind-the-scenes – has been given the spotlight. Half Life 2‘s gravity gun and Fall Guys‘ unpredictable movement immediately comes to mind, and Exo One‘s wonderful alien spacecraft joins their ranks.

It’s incredibly satisfying to navigate across the various extra-terrestrial vistas of Exo One. Your spacecraft – a weird-looking orb – has two basic modes: it can enable a gravity drive to plummet you toward the ground, or it can glide through the sky. Getting around Exo One‘s range of planets involves using the gravity drive to rapidly accelerate downward and build momentum, then letting go of gravity as you crest off a huge dune or summit, switching to glide mode, and letting the momentum carry you.

When you’re punctuating introspective gliding with dramatic high-speed plunges, Exo One feels a bit like an interstellar rollercoaster. Granted, I can’t say I’ve seen the same gorgeous alien vistas from Alton Towers’ Nemesis, but the argument still stands – there’s a familiar rush of adrenaline on every perilous plummet in the game.

There’s also a real art to slingshotting your ship across space, a certain fascinating rhythm to knowing when to hold down the gravity drive and when to let go and soar. When you’re truly in the zone, moving as fast as inhumanly possible, it feels like you’re being carried through the endless veins of some vast cosmic giant. In those moments where flying feels like an effortless extension of your own body, your mind can wander elsewhere and truly appreciate the worlds you’re skimming over.

Exo One
Exo One. Credit: Exbleative

Some fantastic sound effects make all of this feel very real. Rattling your craft across plains of sand sounds dense and crunchy, and picking up speed in the air comes with some noisy wind resistance. In a game where you’ll float and glide to your heart’s content, it’s nice that Exo One makes sure that – despite the fluidity – your ship feels weighty to pilot across every exquisite-looking planet.

Now, I’ve mentioned the gorgeous settings in Exo One a few times now, and that’s for  good reason – every planet you visit manages to stand out and shine magnificently. Environments range from sprawling oceans to endless deserts, tropical jungles, and asteroid belts, to name just a few. I was constantly reminded of Star Fox 64 – obviously because both have you flying through planets across space, but on a deeper level, because both games paint some truly believable extra-terrestrial surfaces. Drifting across these lonely worlds – so far from your home – instils a sense of melancholy, particularly with the fragments of story that you’ll pick up across the journey.

I don’t want to spoil any of the story, but I will say that it kept me hooked throughout. Like many games – including those beloved story-based games dubbed walking simulatorsExo One trickles down tiny grains of plot to the player like a clogged hourglass, dropping tidbits of backstory between levels. The whole time through I was hooked with the narrative, (literally) racing through to find out what’s happening and what’s already happened.

Exo One
Exo One. Credit: Exbleative

Although I’ve sat here praising Exo One, there’s one huge planet-sized caveat for anyone who’s considering picking the game up. The slower pace of this game means that, very simply, it’s just not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. As someone who’s used to picking up games that are a bit more frantic or faster-moving, I know that I’m perhaps not the target audience for Exo One, and that’s fine, but I would have liked each level to be a bit more engaging.

I don’t know, though – I say that Exo One isn’t aimed at me, but here I am, still thinking about joyously zipping across its weird worlds and craving another gravity-defying flight. Perhaps it’s not so much that Exo One isn’t made with me in mind, it’s just that some people will take to every ounce of this game far more passionately than I have.

Exo One
Exo One. Credit: Exbleative.

On a more critical note, I did have some legitimate issues with the game. Whenever I sat down with it for too long, I was left with some very unpleasant motion sickness. There was one specific level where you have to slingshot your ship across an asteroid belt, which had some very rough camera movements. While it’s entirely possible that I’m just getting old at the grand age of 24, I suspect that there will be other players that find their stomach’s don’t agree with Exo One.

There’s also some issues with buggy terrain. There were a couple of moments where I ended up having to restart my level due to getting stuck, with an underwater level forcing several hard restarts. I also had a bit of crashing between levels, but it didn’t bother me as much as getting stuck in terrain.

That being said, these issues aren’t the end of the world. If you like the sound of Exo One, they’re – for the most part – not going to get in the way of you enjoying the game.

Exo One launches on November 18 for PC and Xbox Series X|S. We played the game on PC.

The Verdict

Despite offering a faster-than-light flight through the galaxy, Exo One‘s wider angle is a slower-paced and melancholy journey through a beautifully-realised cosmos. There are some issues with bugs, and the unhurried pacing won’t be for everyone, but Exo One is an unmissable voyage for those who know what they’re getting into.

Pros

  • Exo One‘s spacecraft is a pleasure to pilot from start to finish
  • Filled with gorgeous planets and striking landscapes
  • An interesting, lonely story

Cons

    • Not everyone will enjoy Exo One’s deceptively slow pacing
    • There are a couple of bugs and stability issues that need ironed out
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