An immensely gratifying experience about exploring alien worlds, Exo One is a celestial flight sim mixed with a momentum based skating game. The Finger Guns Review.
As the credits rolled on the game, I was hit by the thought of how unique Exo One is. There’s a simple grace to the way it is designed, with single minded focus on what it wants to do. It feels so rare to find a game that knows its hook, what makes it unique, and nails it so expertly that it doesn’t need any bloat or added extra. Exo One is a fantastic example of this. This is a game about traversing alien planets while taking in a non-traditional narrative. Nothing more. Nothing less.
In Exo One, you’ve given control over a shapeshifting, spherical space ship. After an opening cutscene, you find yourself surrounded by alien terrain. Your only immediate landmark is a light off in the distance, beaming into the sky. There’s no explicit direction, waypoints or instruction. It’s the players job to learn how to move, then how to fly and discover where you’re going.
In space, no one can hear you scream (with glee)
Traversing these strange worlds is at the core of Exo One. The spherical ship you’re controlling is outfitted with a “gravity drive”. Activated with a pull of the right trigger, this pulls the space ship towards the nearest centre of gravity. For most of the levels, that’ll simply be pulling you quickly down any slopes on the massive planet you’re scaling. By using the Gravity Drive to pull you down through the air and down slopes and the releasing before you head uphill, you’ll be able to roll up mountains, propelled by your gravitational momentum. The higher you fall from, the more speed and momentum you generate.
Soon after starting, you also gain the ability to morph your ship from a sphere into a disc shape. Hold down the left trigger and this’ll activate a glide which allows you to convert that gravity propulsion into flight that’ll cover massive distances. By combining the 2 forms, forcing yourself down with the gravity drive and then shifting into a glide when you’re in the air, you can build up an immensely gratifying rhythm that will see you soaring through the the unfamiliar atmospheres.
The numerous alien worlds are all designed around accommodating that rhythm, to varying degrees. With an element of procedural generation built in to make these worlds seem gargantuan, you’ll see the same features appear repeatedly on each planet. In the first level, for example, there are a number of valleys that are akin to a skate park’s half pipes. Later, you’ll be on a planet with large cuboid structures jutting out of the ground that you can roll down. In another, there are small puddles which you can use for short bunny hop like manoeuvres. You get the same kick out of perfectly traversing these planets as you do when hitting a perfect run on Tony Hawk Pro Skater. I’ve genuinely sat on my couch, twitching my feet and bobbing my head as I try to thread the needle around these planets.
The Truth Is Out There
Each of the planets in Exo One offer there own challenge or twist on traversal. The first few levels are simple enough. There’s a light off in the distance and you’ll be using the half-pipe like valleys to move in that direction in order to get accustomed to the movement. Soon you’ll find yourself on water covered planets where you can skim across the surface should you splash down at an obtuse angle. A forest level, the most linear level in the game, has hollow tree trunks to spin through. In another level, strong winds buffet the ship as it moves. I won’t spoil the game’s best moments as they’re best experienced without prior knowledge. What I will say is that when the game takes the shackles off the player towards the end of the game, it’s really quite glorious.
Of the 12 levels in the game, there’s only one that I would say needed to have its design tightened up. This level, set on asteroids rather than a traditional planet, doesn’t have the same feel as the others. The solution doesn’t feel clear enough and I feel like the method I used to clear this level probably wasn’t the correct one as it was really rather boring. With every other level, the objective is almost always clear, either based on the environmental design (like a beacon of light in the sky) or small messages from the spherical ship which occasionally appear on screen.
While you’re traversing the alien worlds of Exo One, you’ll also be treated to a story. This tale isn’t told in a traditional way. Cut scenes before or after some levels leave narrative breadcrumbs for you to interpret. While you’re moving across the planets, you’ll also get flashes of poignant images. Many of the story beats doesn’t make sense in isolation until you reach the end point when everything starts to make sense. Even then, some facets of the tale will be up to the player’s interpretation.
The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons
Every world in Exo One also has its own aesthetic. Even though each planet has its own look, the visuals in this game are universally excellent. A combination of an art style based on modern day sci-fi mixed with highly detailed worlds and brilliant lighting make for a very compelling series of worlds to explore. There’s only a hand full of rough edges – there’s some noticeable pop-in on some planets and if you go high enough, you can see the repeated pattern across a water surface, for example – but these do very little to spoil a visually stunning experience.
The visuals are accompanied by a chilled out, varied soundtrack. Some Exo One levels are complemented by gentle guitar riffs while others have melodic synths, plinking away in the background. The sound effects are all very pleasing on the ear too. The whistle emitted when the ship starts to glide, for example, sits in that brain tickling sweet spot.
Exo One might only be 3 hours long but those few hours are packed with jaw dropping moments. Like I said at the start of this review, this game feels like it is designed to achieve on specific goal and it does that very successfully. Marble running myself over alien sand dunes, skimming across glorious seas, soaring through clouds as moisture gathers on the screen – it’s all so very gratifying and doesn’t outstay its welcome. There’s one planet I could have done without but the rest of the game is worth playing, whether that’s via Game Pass or by buying the game on whatever store front you can get the game on.
A short, sharply designed and immensely gratifying experience, Exo One is a trippy space ship journey worth taking. Sure, there’s a few rough edges but the deeply satisfying traversal combined with the chill vibe this game gives off make up for its shortcomings.
Exo One is available now on Xbox Series (reviewed on an Xbox Series S), PC via Steam and Xbox One.
Publisher: Future Friends Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.