A strange signal… an alien craft… an interplanetary, gravity-defying journey through space and time.
Publisher: Future Friends Games, Exbleative
Reviewed on: PC (Intel i5-9400F, @2.90GHZ, RTX 2060, 16GB RAM)
Game Design, Art, Sound, Story: Jay Weston
Code: Jay Weston, David Kazi, Rhys Lindsay
Story Consultant: Jon Ingold
Music: Rhys Lindsay
Games can be very unassuming, and Exo One is precisely that sort of game. What seems like a simple enough game about a spacecraft navigating alien worlds is, in fact, a masterclass in atmosphere. The sense of awe and wonderment that is inspired in Exo One as you weave and glide across an array of planets and biomes makes this an intergalactic journey worth experiencing.
The gameplay loop of Exo One is fairly simple if you break it down, get from your starting point to a tower, and get beamed away to the next planet. Though Exo One is about the journey more than the destination. The Spacecraft you command, Exo One (funnily enough), is initially a spherical shape, as you ride some red dunes, increasing your gravity and releasing this at opportune times to build up momentum and shoot into the air. Then the game tells you that you can glide, and Exo One flattens into a disk and begins soaring across the alien landscapes. The different components of the momentum-based movement interweave excellently and make the kilometres melt away as you navigate the various landscapes.
Just as you think the first few planets have been different shades of the same landscape, they vary it up and, in doing so, flip your established flight patterns on their head. Where over the rolling dunes of the first worlds you increase gravity down slopes and release it on the up, Waterworlds must be carefully managed, turning your flying saucer into a skipping rock as you skim the surface to the destination. Weather effects introduce additional elements to consider as you use the wind bursts from crashing comets or soar through storm clouds to boost your gliding radius.
This loop is aided and made all the more engaging by the excellent presentation in Exo One. Across both visual and auditory fronts, the music matches up against the surrounding world, contributing to an atmosphere and a sense of wonderment. Though often, the absence of music builds the atmosphere as you hear the sounds of the wind whistling past the craft and crunching of gravel underneath your rolling.
gif supplied by the publisher
Each world is unique in its visual splendour, and a beautiful range of colours is on display, and enough lens flare to make J.J Abrams blush. Cold blue mountains, stormy water worlds and gas giants are some of those that you will explore. Due to the size of the spaces available to explore, you feel like a small visitor to these Hadean worlds, and the sense of scale contributes to the beholden beauty. The pioneering explorer in you is rewarded by going off the beaten track and locating some shiny orbs that boost your gliding distance. There are some limits to how far off the path you can explore, but there is still a large playground on each planet, with the edge only likely to be found if you seek it.