The sci-fi video game everyone should play at least once
The first time Outer Wilds made me say “damn shit” out loud was unforgettable.
I had boarded my spaceship for the first time. Always confused, always uncertain. What’s going on here? What is this video game about? How does it all work? where am i supposed to be Go?
Still, I followed the instructions. I approached my spaceship – a rickety wooden shack of a thing. I pressed a few buttons, and soon I was afloat, hovering effortlessly in the darkness of space. Still confused. Still not sure. What is happening here? I do not understand that everything.
Then, in the distance, a planet. A bright green dot smudged in the void. “I’ll go, I guess,” I thought to myself, more out of confusion than anything else.
Struggling against the ship’s controls, I raced toward the green planet, eventually hurtling through its dense green atmosphere at full speed. “I can’t see anything,” I whispered, but then emerged from the fog.
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I only had a split second before diving headfirst into the ocean, but I saw it. It was an aquatic planet, the size of a toy. But that didn’t surprise me – it was the whirlpools. Six of them at least, competing with each other in an otherworldly storm on the waves. As I floated on the surface, water pouring out the windows, my eyes turned into saucers.
The wind whipped as the competing whirlwinds galloped across the surface, so powerful they launched entire islands into the atmosphere – literally into space – before crashing into the planet. I had never seen anything like it in a video game. I had never seen anything like it before, period. But it was Outer Wilds. In Outer Wilds, wild imagination becomes normalized.
Outer Wilds is a video game about space exploration, but it’s also a mystery to unravel. Following in the footsteps of the Nomai, an alien race that perished thousands of years ago, Outer Wilds is a game in which you play space detective, investigating the ruins of an extinct civilization with the aim of find exactly what the heck past? The twist: Outer Wilds centers around a Groundhog Day-esque time loop. You have exactly 22 minutes to investigate before the sun implodes, taking your entire solar system with it. All that remains is: The knowledge you gained during those precious minutes.
Outer Wilds is a mystery unraveling like a traditional video game – through audio logs, written notes, and more. – but the execution is so inspired you barely notice the tropes. With its inventive locations and subtle puzzles, Outer Wilds consistently inspires a level of awe unlike any video game I’ve ever played.
Outer Wilds takes you to a handful of different planets, each weirder than the next. Each is loaded with strange advanced technologies left behind by the Nomai. A clue found on a planet can lead you to a new location on a planet you have visited previously. Slowly you sink deeper into these dazzling environments and into a deeper understanding of the mystery you are trying to solve. There is no shooting, no complex platforming. In Outer Wilds, currency is knowledge, the knowledge players use to figure out their next step and, therefore, solve this strange mystery on a meta level. The result: constant, eye-opening joy, a series of “holy shit” moments that make Outer Wilds unforgettable.
Outer Wilds constantly evokes awe. There’s Giant’s Deep, the aforementioned planet with its competing hurricanes, but there’s also Brittle Hollow, a world collapsing before your eyes. Descending deep below the surface, you watch entire swathes of the planet being engulfed by a vibrating black hole at its center. One misstep and you could fall for it.
And what happens when you fall into a black hole in Outer Wilds? Well, it would be rude to spoil the surprise. But it’s as mind-blowing as one might expect.
Outer Wilds is punctuated by its holy shitty moments. A quantum moon that disappears when you stop looking at it. Technology that allows you to instantly warp between two distant points. Twin planets connected by a pillar of sand that flows endlessly back and forth, dramatically reshaping the two planets like an intricate hourglass.
But unlike the cool, clinical sci-fi of, say, Interstellar or Arrival, Outer Wilds is a warm, almost acoustic invention: a small-scale snow globe of a universe, imagined and executed with precision. Like it was expanding roughly from the collapsing atoms in Bon Iver’s beard. That’s part of its charm. His most extravagant moments inspire admiration because they are anchored in a world that is familiar to us, almost anachronistic.
You cruise through space in a wooden contraption, wearing 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 Canadian nature or a Grizzly Bear music video. Outer Wilds’ unique characters swing in hammocks on alien planets and play banjos at campfires as the universe crumbles around them.
It all leads to this overwhelming feeling: you’re trapped in a universe where your traditional ideas don’t make sense. Where gigantic sci-fi ideas about space travel feel just beyond your primitive brain. All you can do is watch – in awe – as the sun implodes in a brilliant blue flash, your time loop complete. Before you wake up panting once again, ready to explore the bizarre universe of Outer Wilds again with fresh eyes.