Marble Games Meet Spooky Space Stories
Tons of video games premiered this week in lieu of E3, with a handful making their debut at the Guerilla Collective event. Exo One initially stood out from that pack through the sheer sensation of traversal freedom shown in the trailer. Use your amorphous state of being to roll down hills like a ball and use that speed to go up a slope and launch yourself as a frisbee. Adding the gorgeous visuals, Exo One's gameplay trailer was promising, and the demo delivered.
The demo starts out with a vague and almost spooky atmosphere. A radio broadcast first mentions a vague description of a signal containing plans for a spherical, exoplanetary probe, followed by various images that give off a spooky tone as their vision only flares up at the pace of an audible lightning storm. After, the broadcast reports that a sole survivor of a Jupiter mission has said that this signal is 'meant for [me]'. Throughout, the cutscenes act ominous, showing a team picture of astronauts while the voice claims he can "get them back".
The cutscenes are a strange contrast to the main gameplay found in the demo. You're an amorphous form that can switch between the form of a ball or a disc, using these shapes to traverse the ground and the skies respectively. Much as the trailer showed, you use the hills to build up kinetic energy and speed in order to launch yourself in disc form and float across the skies. At any time you can press the mouse key to increase your pull on gravity, increasing your weight, allowing you to go down hills even faster for increased speed.
What came as a surprise is what happens when you get good at it. As you traverse towards your ultimate destination, a mysterious diagonal beam of light in the distance, you run into lightning storms and fierce rain. Using your control of gravity and kinetic speed to your advantage, you may very well find yourself high up in the clouds, where random lightning bolts flicker the same image of the earlier mention team of astronauts. There's clearly an attempt at a narrative angle, something that must be a difficult feat given that the amorphous entity doesn't seem all that prone to engage in conversation or even idle talk.
Aside from the narrative, the gameplay does impress. Similar to one of my favorite 2D games on Android, Time Surfer, getting a lot of air by pressing down a slope and letting go at just the right moment is satisfying and rewarding. The direction keys serve to steer, leaving the mouse free to look around at a somewhat restricted 90-degree angle. Sadly, the game doesn't currently recognize a Dualshock 4 as valid controller input, despite it having the option in the main menu to detect a controller.
My greatest gripe currently lies with the planet design. The planet surface and sky look breathtaking, all for a relatively small demo, an impressive feat for sure. Sadly, this design only stays impressive as long as you progress in the direction the game implies you should go. When I started diverting to the sides in my second run, I was quickly met with a flat plateau, ending in a brief drop and an insurmountable geographical wall. This goes against the visual implication the game gave off, namely a sense of traversal freedom.
As long as you head towards your goal, you'll be treated to impressive visuals, but once you divert from that you'll find yourself hitting a proverbial wall soon enough. Worse yet, the aforementioned geographical wall also seems to kill any momentum you had. I'm hoping this limitation is there for the sake of the demo and won't be indicative of the full game. If it is, Exo One might be better off taking some lessons from Race The Sun, where the outer edges instead lead to the player looping around while not punishing them for it.
As a whole, Exo One's demo does not disappoint and has certainly piqued my interest. With these breathtaking visuals and humble size, this is a game definitely worth checking out.
TechRaptor previewed Exo One on PC with a demo provided as part of the Guerilla Collective digital event.