As long as I’m alive, I’ll never forget the first time Outer Wilds made me say “hell.”
I received the keys to launch my spaceship for the first time. Still confused, still a little insecure. What is going on here? What is this video game for? How does all this work? Where should I be I’m going?
Still, I followed the prompts. I approached my spaceship, a shaky wooden hut. I pressed some buttons and soon ascended, ascending effortlessly into the darkness of space. Still confused. He’s still not sure. What the hell is going on here? I do not understand this everything.
Then, in the distance, a planet. A bright green dot exploded into the void. I guess I’ll head there, I told myself, more of a confusion than anything else.
Struggling to control the ship, I headed for the green planet, eventually rushing into its dense green atmosphere at full speed. “I don’t see anything,” I whispered, but then I came out of the fog.
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I only had a split second before crashing headfirst into the ocean, but I saw it. It was a toy-sized water planet. But that didn’t startle me – it was the whirlwinds. At least six of them are competing with each other in an unearthly storm of waves. As I floated back to the surface, water flowed through the windows, my eyes turned to plates.
The wind blew as competing whirlwinds galloped across the surface, so powerful that they shot out. whole islands in the atmosphere – literally in space – before crashing back onto the planet. I’ve never seen anything like it in a video game. I’ve never seen anything like it before, period. But that was Outer Wilds. In the Outer Wild, the incredible imagination is normalized.
“The world damn it.“
Outer Wilds is a video game for space exploration, but it is also a mystery to solve. Following in the footsteps of Nomai, an alien race that died thousands of years ago, Outer Wilds is a game that makes you play a space detective, explore the ruins of a lost civilization in an attempt to find out exactly what the hell happened? The twist: Outer Wilds focuses on the Groundhog Day style cycle. You have exactly 22 minutes to investigate before the sun explodes, taking your entire solar system with you. All that’s left: the knowledge you gained during those precious few minutes.
Outer Wilds is a mystery that is revealed in the traditional way of video games – through audio diaries, written notes and so on – but the performance is so inspiring that you can barely notice the tropes. Through its inventive locales and subtle puzzles, Outer Wilds constantly inspires a level of awe, unlike any video game I’ve ever played.
Outer Wilds makes you travel back and forth to a handful of different planets, each stranger than the last. Each of them is loaded with strange advanced technology left by the Nomais. A clue found on a planet can take you to a new location on a planet you’ve visited before. You are slowly moving deeper and deeper into these dazzling environments and into a deeper understanding of the mystery you are trying to solve. No shooting, no complicated platform. In Outer Wilds the currency is knowledge, players use knowledge to invent their next step and therefore solve this strange mystery on a meta level. The result: a constant, revealing joy, a series of “holy shit” moments that make Outer Wilds unforgettable.
Outer Wilds is constantly awe-inspiring. There is Giant’s Deep, the aforementioned planet with its competing hurricanes, but there is also Brittle Hollow, a world that is collapsing before your eyes. Going deep below the surface, you see whole parts of the planet being swallowed up by a black hole vibrating in its center. A false step and you can fall through it yourself.
And what happens when you fall through a black hole in the Outer Wilds? Well, it would be rude to spoil the surprise. But it’s as mind-boggling as you might expect.
Outer Wilds is dotted with its sacred moments. A quantum moon that disappears when you stop looking at it. Technology that allows you to instantly deform between two distant points. Twin planets connected by a pillar of sand that flows endlessly back and forth, dramatically changing the two planets like a complex hourglass.
But unlike the cool, clinical science fiction of, say, Interstellar or Arrival, Outer Wilds is a homey, almost acoustic invention: a small snow globe of the universe, precisely crafted and executed. It was as if it had expanded in bulk from the collapsing atoms in Bon Iver’s beard. This is part of his charm. His strangest moments inspire awe, because they are based in a world that is familiar to us, almost anachronistic.
You sail into space in a ship made of wood, dressed in a spacesuit that looks like it was built in the 19th century. Your home planet is a hipster’s dream, like a shrunken vision of the Canadian desert or grizzly bear music video. The unique cast of Outer Wilds swings on hammocks on alien planets and plays the banjo of campfires as the universe collapses around them.
All this leads to this captivating feeling: You are trapped in a universe where your traditional ideas make no sense. Where giant science fiction ideas for space travel feel right beyond your primitive brain. All you can do is watch – with awe – as the sun bursts into a brilliant blue flash, your time cycle is complete. Before you wake up once more with a gasp, ready to explore the strange universe of Outer Wilds again with fresh eyes.