‘Exo One’ is Sonic the Hedgehog Meets 2001: A Space Odyssey

I love interesting traversal mechanics in games, whether it’s swinging around in Spider-Man 2, leaping over buildings in Prototype, or clamoring up mountains in Breath of the Wild. I also love exploring vast, lovingly-detailed alien worlds, which too often are merely the backdrop to frenetic action in games like Destiny 2. The newly-released Exo One mixes these two concepts, and the result is two great tastes that taste great together.

There are no enemies in Exo One, no real obstacles besides the terrain you must cross to reach a series of beacons littered across planets which eventually take you to the story’s climax. You play as a metal orb, an advanced ship of alien design which is capable of altering its own gravity. Using this ability, you can launch yourself off a hill, then slam yourself back down into another valley, rocketing even higher and soaring over the game’s gorgeously-detailed planets.

Early on, you also get the ability to glide — but like in Breath of the Wild, your time in the air is limited. And so, playing Exo One turns into a game of leaping into the air, gliding some distance, then diving back down to regain your energy and launching into the sky once more. It’s a beautiful, appropriately alien means of travel, and the lack of game-ending obstacles means that it becomes a somewhat contemplative experience as you master the controls.

Which isn’t to say that Exo One isn’t thrilling. The first time you break the sound barrier, the first time you skip along the surface of a deep ocean are unique experiences, and there are rewards scattered around each world for those who care to investigate rather than making a beeline for the beacon. Eventually, it all culminates in one of the most gorgeous flying levels I’ve ever seen in a game.

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Exo One

If I have any complaints about Exo One, they’re that the game is — if anything — a little too revealing with its narrative, as fragmented as it is. One spot in particular seemed like a natural ending point to me, but the game continued on, for better or worse, towards a much more human and hopeful resolution. There’s also the minor issue of the crosshairs dotting the screen, which I expect are there to create a more atmospheric perspective, but might be irritating for some people.

On the whole, though, Exo One is a game I can recommend wholeheartedly to pretty much anyone. The simple joy of moving through its incredibly-detailed landscapes, plus its short length — it can be completed in under an hour — make it a pleasure to play through, and I admire the restraint on the part of the developers in refusing to complicate the experience with progression, base-building, and the other kinds of cruft that are so often expected these days even in small games like this one.

Exo One is available now on Steam and Xbox S/X, and is as of this writing available for free to Game Pass subscribers.

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merritt k

Managing Editor, Podcasts

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