There’s no doubt about it, Exo One is stunning, but the further I got into the game, the more frustrated I became and wanted to introduce my controller to the wall. Intimately. I accept that getting to grips with the controls was my issue, but the frequent wrestling with the camera at later levels and the shift in direction proved to test my patience.
If it weren’t for this being a review copy of the game, kindly provided by the publisher, Future Friends, I might have bailed on the Coronides stage. But, in fear of not giving it a chance, I grit my teeth through the later stages, jumping in and out of other games to make sure my controller was definitely registering. Yes, I did finish the game, and in four hours.
I’d written half of this Exo One review at the halfway point of the game, and it consisted of words such as magnificent and marvel but had to rewrite it by the time of some of the later stages. When it comes to the flight element and the out of this world visuals, it’s sublime. Flight can be tricky as it implements a glide mechanic, shifting between diving and building momentum, as well as recharging your vessel by grounding it. But when you get up into the clouds… wow.
This is the closest we’ve got to the 80s classic Flight of the Navigator. All those years of imagining how cool it’d be to have a friend like Max and hoon around at testicle reducing speeds felt like a pipedream. Exbleative really has bottled the sense of thrill and injected it into the gameplay in an ungodly way. Witchcraft, methinks.
After ‘the Jupiter accident’, an alien signal has been intercepted that has shared blueprints for an alien craft (the Exo One). Once built, you’re the lucky one to get to take it out for a spin. There are no enemies, no laser beams, deaths or checkpoints – Exo One is a game of discovery and exploration. Though it’s pretty linear, those landscapes touched upon are majestic. It’s easy to get lost in their beauty, and you will – there aren’t any maps or radars.
This is a good and bad(ish) thing. The good: uninterrupted full-screen visuals, in my case 2560×1440 with top settings bar one or two, and it worked a treat. There was zero slow down – textures felt like you could reach out and touch them and even feel the dampness from the shorelines or heat from some of the more fiery terrains. As for the bad (not that bad, mind), it’s not always clear where to go other than a beacon of light to follow.
Eyeballing that beacon was a cinch, but sometimes the terrain was ‘in the way’. The Exo One is a sphere as standard, with enviable gravitational agility. Rolling up an almost vertical face is easy peasy. When out of juice, holding down R2 (I used a DualSense) will generate energy, but it can send you plummeting down the path you ascended. I found myself getting quite angry at a later level when stripped of abilities. There wasn’t any steering, and after exhausting the jumping options, I’d roll back, on occasion, further than the point of arrival.
In a rare move, I had a look at some other Exo One reviews to see what the consensus was. Was I missing anything? It already has an overwhelmingly positive rank on Steam, and the reviews from most outlets are typically over 8 out of 10. While it wouldn’t force me to change my opinion, I wondered why my experience differed more than anyone else.
There’s no argument: this game has breathtaking elements, and those moments of flying through the clouds were euphoric. Equally, the sound design is flawless. The Brian Eno-like understated score was fantastic; not using actual voice recordings for the dialogue was also a wise choice, but the sounds of the Exo One… I can’t give it enough praise – especially when blasting above the sound barrier.
I’ll take onus for poor gliding skills, but that wasn’t my issue. It was wrestling with camera angles (and gravity) on levels such as Coronides. In fear of being the minority, some stages dragged. While exploration in Exo One is an option, the lands are barren, and some locations more than others became a chore. I haven’t played anything like this game and still am in awe of the presentation. However, it’s not a game I’ll replay in full due to a couple of levels spoiling my experience. Once the level select feature comes available, I wouldn’t hesitate to revisit my favourite stages as these truly were magnificent.