Exo One game review: gorgeous planet-surfing through space

Robby Bisschop
by Robby Bisschop
Robby lives and breathes videogames. When he's not playing them, he's talking about them on social media or convincing other people to pick up a controller themselves. He's online so often, he could practically... Read more
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  • Exo One is a gorgeous looking game that has you rolling and flying through breathtaking vistas
  • It tells a human story through bits and pieces that felt somewhat unnecessary
  • Its major selling points are the gorgeous visuals and the feeling of serenity as you glide through the atmosphere

Exo One is an amazing-looking indie game in which you travel at sonic speed through alien planets far beyond our own solar system. You’re piloting an alien-technology spacecraft (I think?) that uses gravity to increase its rolling speed and then you jump and glide through the atmosphere, making your way to the nearest transporter that will shoot you off to the next planet.

Its major selling points are the gorgeous visuals and the feeling of serenity as you glide through clouds and take in the wonderful vistas across the universe.

Planet surfing

Exo One uses a unique method of traversal. You’re controlling a spacecraft that can alter its shape and gravitational pull. In practice this means that you’ll be turning into a spherical shape when rolling across the terrain, increasing your gravity on downhill slopes to pick up speed, and then jumping at the right time to gain height and glide long distances.

Rock and roll

It’s a wonderful feeling when you can chain the different techniques together, but at the same time, it can also frustrate you if you mess up somehow and have to regain your momentum from scratch.

What is beyond impressive, however, is the scale of these planets you’re traversing and how carefully planned out all of the hills are, especially in one particular level where they disable your steering and you’ll have to rely on the direction of certain slopes to fling you in the correct direction.

Another level has you use asteroids around a burning star to slingshot you towards the next transporter and it’s truly a sight to behold, but at the same time hugely frustrating if you lose your bearing or can’t succeed to break loose from the gravity pulling you down to the rock you’re on.

It’s all sun and games until you lose track of where to go

Gorgeous sights to behold

Each planet you traverse has its own unique obstacles to overcome and while it may not give you a lot of explanations, it’s usually clear what you have to do, like gathering energy or simply making your way to the shining beacon of light that pierces the sky.

You’d be forgiven if you forget to focus on progression for a second and instead decide to take in the lovely surroundings because there really are some beautiful locations to behold. My personal favorite was the calm water planet that kind of resembles earth. It also helps that this one was the easiest for me to maintain a nice and fast speed because of all the boost gates present.

sea-riously beautiful!

As for the music, there are rare moments when there is a wonderfully composed soundtrack with synth music that is often used in movies about space travel, but the majority of the game is silent and only has you hearing the humming of your spacecraft and the weather effects that hit your ship’s exterior as you blast through the atmosphere.

Interstellar travel

I’ve played through the game twice now and I’m still not entirely sure I grasp what the story is trying to tell. There are flashes of a crew of astronauts and quotes from an expedition to Jupiter that went wrong, or didn’t it?

Are these people still alive? I honestly have no clue.

From what I could gather from the narrated explanations in the game, we’re piloting this unique alien vessel as humans, but I’m also not sure if it’s borrowed technology and how exactly it fits humans inside? It was a bit hard to take in because the narrative elements are often told during moments where the entire screen flashes in all bright colors, and even though I’m not epileptic, I felt the urge to look away.

I was mostly getting the same vibes as when watching the movie Interstellar and it felt like the game was aiming for a similar narrative, but at the same time, I didn’t really feel like it needed a story at all. We’re never really introduced to any characters we should care about and I can’t help but think that simply removing the human element from the game would have left it as a better game.

How long to beat and complete?

How long does it take to beat Exo One? My first playthrough took me around 2.5 hours but I did struggle a lot getting past the asteroid level. It should have unlocked an achievement for beating it under 180 minutes though, but in my case, it didn’t pop.

There is also an achievement for beating it under 30 minutes so I guess that with the right momentum and if you know where you need to be going, you can really blaze through each planet and keep breaking the sound barrier, which is what almost half of the achievements require you to do.

My second playthrough came in just a little over two hours so I guess the controls simply don’t click with me and it might end up being a totally different experience if you’re more fluent than I am. (alas, the achievement for sub 180 minutes didn’t pop again)

All things considered, a great player could probably get the full 1000G in about 1-2 hours total if they can maintain the breakneck speed in one run and manage to find all the collectible energy sources in the next one.

Final thoughts on Exo One

Pros
Absolutely gorgeous vistas to behold
When the different gameplay techniques click, it feels almost meditative
Cons
But when they don't it can feel frustrating and near impossible to progress
The story feels unnecessary and needlessly confusing

Final Score: 3.5/5

Exo One is a unique gaming experience with almost meditative qualities when you’re in the flow of things and masterfully chaining the creative techniques together while taking in the breathtaking sights.

I guess your enjoyment all relies on your skills in doing so because the moments where it truly frustrated me and I felt stuck, also seemed to be caused by my own lack of grasping when to glide and how long to nosedive back to the surface. There is also a story that felt unnecessarily confusing and could have probably been left out altogether.

None of this takes away from its visual qualities however and it’s very much worth playing through at least once for that alone.

Exo One costs around €16 and is available on Windows PC and Xbox consoles. It’s currently also included in Xbox Game Pass.

*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Review copy provided by the publisher.

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