The Outer Wilds is a fun game that combines the themes of Groundhog Day and space exploration into a delightful package that will keep you wanting to return for more.
When you start The Outer Wilds you wake up by a campfire. It’s a pleasant, clear evening with your buddy roasting marshmallows by an open fire. The day has come and you’re about to leave the planet in a space ship for your debut mission. As you wander around your home planet, Timber Hearth, and talk to the inhabitants there, you find out little clues that stick in the mind. Your buddy by the fire suggests you have one final practice with the remote control test ship before you blast off and go and pick up the launch codes from the head scientist in the Observatory. In a spooky scene inside the observatory, I locked gazes with a statue only for its eyes to glow bright and space & time were suddenly visualised in front of my eyes. I can only describe it as something out of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Your fellow inhabitants pass this off as a mere hallucination, but something’s going on here. Once you have the codes you blast off into space and you’re off on your adventures.
The freedom that comes with space travel mechanics in the Outer World is a sheer joy. Spot a plant or moon, set your speed and fly straight there. Just make sure you keep your helmet on. The first time I blasted off into space and landed, I took off my helmet for some reason and stepped off onto the new terrain only to keel over and die immediately. Another time I found a huge gas planet and tried to land on the surface only to fall through into the oceans beneath and was swiftly eaten by a huge monster under the waves. It was delightfully terrifying and surprising in equal measures.
There’s a serene and calming quality to The Outer Wilds. Explore, investigate and discover clues that lead you to other Hearthian Astronaughts from your home planet investigating clues on other worlds. Float through space and pick and choose where you want to go to next, all the while noting entries into the log. The solar system only has a handful of planets and moons, however, they do feel distinctive and different enough. The sense of one minute walking around on a planet to the next blasting into the upper atmosphere is a great feeling. Then, about 20 mins after you start playing… The sun explodes.
But you start again, back to where you first woke up next to the campfire with your friend. That’s the beauty of The Outer Wilds and where the comparisons to Groundhog day come from. You have a certain time limit to understand as much information, collect as many clues as possible and try your best to figure out why the sun explodes before the loop starts again. You are the only one experiencing the time-loop effect it seems and you retain memories from each previous life, allowing you to piece together the mystery of why the sun is exploding – and hopefully preventing it in the future. The Outer Wilds is played from a first-person perspective. You wake up, explore a little bit and will probably die. More often than not in a comical fashion.
When you set off on your journey you’re given a device that allows you to translate the ancient language of the Nomai. As you travel around the solar system you use this to decode clues. At the start of the game, it’s a little overwhelming knowing where to go and what to do first. The fact that you only have 20 mins to do so helps here. It gives you a nice time-boxed experience which can either be picked up and played for hours on end figuring out all the clues, or you can pick up and play for a cycle or two. The Outer Wilds does a great job of tantalising little clues in front of you making you not want to put the game down. There’s a wonderful sense of discovery in The Outer Wilds as a player, but there’s also reading the sense of discovery with your translator tool and realising The Nomai had that same sense of wonder discovering the secrets of the solar system.
A ship is the best friend of any space traveller and yours is no different. It looks like it’s made out of a few barrels and stuck together with glue, but don’t be fooled as this is a robust vessel that can take a few rough landings no problem. It has a few useful tools on it, like the auto pilot and a sensor which you can point towards a planet to find out more information from a distance. You can fly, loop-da-loop and drift through space knowing this trusty ship will keep out (most) of the space nasties. Just don’t encounter something that’d big enough to swallow you AND your ship, because they won’t think twice.
The Outer Wilds offers up mystery, wonder and motivation to explore the multiple worlds. It’s also a nice place just to simply hang out in, look around and enjoy your time. You can gaze out into space, or check out a beautiful sunset on a local planet. For the more adventurous you can check out the caves on a local moon with just your torch. It has something for everyone. The aesthetic of the game is quite cartoony, vibrant and friendly which adds to the pleasant experience.
The Outer Wilds was a surprise to me as it came out of nowhere. That may make the game even better. If you like exploration and discovering clues to piece them back together for a little space escapism, then this might be the game for you.
Developer: Mobius Digital
Platforms: PC, Mac, Xbox One
Release date: 29th May 2019