Each planet is a distinct entity in every way. From its landscape to its gravity, no planet quite feels like the other, and each is continuously on its way around the sun. Their relationship to one another, as well as to the sun, can lead to new discoveries if you time it right, which is a great way to make use of the 22-minute loop. The icy crust of a planet called The Interloper, for example, will melt when the planet gets close to the sun, allowing you to access the caves beneath. Another symbiosis also leads to one of my more memorable deaths – two planets called Ash and Ember share a gravitational field and a lot of sand, which gave them the name Hourglass Twins. A badly-timed jump with my jetpack left me stuck in one of Ember’s crevices, where the sand pulled in from Ash slowly drowned me.
Outer Wilds isn’t morbid or unfair, but it does ask you to take risks in the name of exploration, and you can go through a frustrating amount of loops before a particular jump works out or you have the planet memorised enough to be able to efficiently go about your business. The time loop did cause me unwanted tension, if rarely so, making me aware that after a crooked landing and orienting myself, only so much time remained for actual exploration.
More often, it was the need for jetpack fuel or oxygen that ended an excursion prematurely, or hitting my head during a jump. While I understand the need for some realism and challenge, these elements did hamper my enjoyment. Nevertheless, the palpable sense of progression and the beautiful way in which Outer Wilds builds and rewards curiosity kept me going to discover a solar system – and a people – rich with character.
After a long time alone, it can feel great to find one of the other travellers camping out on the various planets. They’re always good for a chat and a valuable source of hints, too. You can find them by following the sound of their instruments across the solar system.
A beautiful but occasionally frustrating gem, cleverly playing with time and hiding many secrets.
Format: PC (tested) / XBO
Developer: Mobius Digital
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Release: Out now