Outer Wilds Review: For a game about outer world exploration, Outer Wilds can seem incredibly small. Flying from one planet to another takes just seconds, making it easy to ping around the game’s unique solar system. The brevity of traveling through this handmade collection of areas to explore may seem strange at first – especially when the opening minutes of Outer Wilds emphasize the importance of your mission to document the unknown.
It doesn’t take long for your anticipations of Outer Wilds to be completely turned upside down, giving way to compelling mysteries to solve and confront tough questions about mortality. These questions lead you to unforgettable adventures in which every piece of the story you gain feels as rewarding as the last.
Outer Wilds Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows
- Developer: Mobius Digital
- Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
- Genres: Action-adventure game
- Release Date: May 28, 2019
Outer Wilds Review: Gameplay
You play as a citizen of a race of four-eyed, cheerful-looking aliens, and you are selected as your closest relative to go to the stars. Nestled in the cozy forests of a small planet called Timber Hearth, you and your brothers consider the same questions you probably thought of before. Armed with nothing more than a spacesuit, a handy language translator, and tools to research everything from distress signals to harmful invisible gases, you must flee in your crudely constructed spaceship and your car in every direction.
With suggestions that another life existed in this solar system for you, your job is to find evidence to support that claim. Decayed forgotten-era architecture can be found on most planet surfaces, with translatable foreign texts that allow you to uncover the mystery of where these civilizations are today. A heavenly ticking time bomb limits your exploration: the sun in the center of the solar system implodes after 22 minutes and sends you back to the same dreamy campsite on your home planet to restart this Groundhog Day loop.
With each new run, you can collect more pieces of Outer Wilds’ narrative puzzle, slowly working together to cause your neighbor’s rapid decline before embracing every inevitable death. Traditionally, death is not harmful to Outer Wilds. In a way, it is beautiful. The gloomy tune that plays just before the light disappears from the solar system indicates death, but it is also an indication of how much you discovered in that one life.
It’s satisfying to have a production run that unlocks multiple new threads for you to follow on your next try, pushing you into new planets to explore and solve narrative puzzles. Other times, it’s just as poignant to accept a quiet ride and just embrace the beautiful scenery around you. Sitting on top of a peak and watching the sun die out is strangely calming after tedious expeditions, allowing you to think about your misguided choices and tune in to the next trip.
Exploration and the knowledge you gain from it is the only way to get through Outer Wilds. When you encounter clues and discoveries, they are recorded in a handy logbook onboard your ship. These clues are sewn together and color-coded to guide you through the different dangling threads of the story. The open structure of the game allows you to tackle all parts of the mystery, in any order, before they inevitably begin to connect to portray the bigger picture.
These links are not clear clues to the next piece of the puzzle but are suggestive nudges that will help you determine when it is safe to go from one discovery to the next. This makes each of these discoveries feel deserved and also avoids potentially frustrating barriers to your progress. Persuasive writing takes you into the world of Outer Wilds, and digging up even the tiniest bits of this larger story is a worthwhile endeavor.
The countless invincible dialogue reports are charming, while always maintaining a purpose, giving you little nuggets of information to think about even in the most seemingly throwaway conversations. The preserved exchanges between children could describe a game they made to pass the time in dark and gloomy catacombs beneath a planet’s surface, which is a useful clue to reaching a hidden area.
On the other hand, you can also stumble over the bleak distress signals that never reached their intended rescuers or complicated plans for alien constructions that drove past civilizations to make alarmingly dangerous decisions. You get attached to the recurring names in conversations and get invested in their stories, even knowing many of them don’t have a happy ending.
Without an explicit guide to point you in the direction of your next great find, every discovery feels like a hard-earned reward. You will slowly be able to merge events that take place at other ends of the solar system and slowly let your theories give way to a clearer understanding of events that happened before any more questions are asked. This discovery loop drives you to explore every inch of every planet you can, each with its delicious little puzzles to solve.
Outer Wilds contains only a handful of planets and other celestial bodies that you can explore on foot, but no two are exactly alike. They each have unique features that offer different challenges that you have to overcome to examine them quickly. The Hourglass Twins, for example, orbit close to the sun, but stay dangerously close to each other, with the appeal of one absorbing the sandy surface of the other and slowly gaining new areas to explore over time.
A fast-traveling comet known as the Interloper has an icy exterior that hides a maze of caves beneath its crust, which can only be investigated if it gets close enough to the sun to melt the entrances open. An orbiting moon dotted with erupting volcanoes projecting volatile lava balls into space makes Brittle Hollow treacherously simple on the surface. You have to find a way under the crust of the Hollow to traverse it safely and discover previous civilizations that seemingly struggled with the same dangers centuries ago.
Figuring out how to traverse each planet safely is an engaging puzzle to solve, especially when it is necessary to understand their positions within the solar system and when to tackle them best. Accidental stumbling upon entry into new areas or observing mysterious behavior when exploring a planet makes each of these spaces more detailed and expansive than their small physical dimensions suggest.
It’s even more surprising when many of them contain large cities hidden under their crust waiting to be picked apart. The mechanical and visual variation of each of these planets makes exploring each new a tempting treat. It is disappointing then that the rules of effortless movement and space flight in Outer Wilds are counter-intuitive to this peculiar poking and prodding of its world. The rules of physics strictly bound space flights in your ship and exploration of the planetary surface with your jetpack.
You have to struggle with different gravity sizes and directions as you navigate using six-directional thrusters, adding or subtracting your movement in any corresponding direction. It takes time to learn when to start applying reverse thrust when approaching a planet or how to subtly beam upon a planet’s surface without accidentally breaking through the atmosphere and space. Still, how much you also practice; these actions never feel entirely natural.
Minor mistakes are punishable by premature, frustrating deaths. You can wait minutes for the right time to navigate to a specific area, wasting it all on an error caused by Outer Wilds’ non-intuitive control scheme. It is at odds with the rest of the game.
Outer Wilds Review: Conclusion
The utterly engaging story and plentiful mysteries of Outer Wilds push you further to explore the richly varied and stunning solar system. With the time loop, you’re stuck in; you can create bite-sized expeditions that all tell their own stories, whether you’re making a monumental discovery or just encountering a playful interaction. By enabling you to chart your course and put the mystery together at your own pace, Outer Wilds makes each of his expeditions feel incredibly personal and indispensable.
It doesn’t take long for your anticipations of Outer Wilds to be completely turned upside down, giving way to compelling mysteries to solve and confront tough questions about mortality.