by Harshvardhan J. Pandit
blog personal sci-fi video-games
Outer Wilds is one of the most unique and creative games ever produced. Imagine being part of an alien race who only have a few members and live on a small planet, and have just begun their space exploration. Their solar system is rather small and accessible, and their crafts can handily go to the planets. To aid them in their progress are leftover artefacts from a mysterious powerful race that enables them feats of science fiction. Now here's the creative part: the Sun in the game explodes (goes supernova) every 20mins of real time. Your memories are recorded in one of the alien artefacts, and you are transported back in time to the start. You mission - to figure out why the sun explodes, what were the aliens doing all around the solar system, and what you can do about it.
To make sense of what is happening, you have to take your craft and go to other locations and planets and talk to your follow species members. There are walls with alien texts that document their various projects - and you need to find them and use them to understand what the project was. The game is really well structured in laying out these clues in places and helping you find and make sense of them. It is a joy to find out what the text means, and to see machines and structures with a new perspective.
There are some truly magnificient game elements to witness. Such as these twin planets - one filled with sand and the other hollowed rock, that orbit each other and act like an hourglass. Sand from one flows into the other due to gravity, and this makes areas accessible or inaccessible. You need to visit the planets in time to get to these areas, often across multiple deaths. The planning and execution of doing this is so rich with experience and yet so simple to grasp that once you do it - there are intense rewards at having solved a truly creative puzzle. The game is full of such moments - at small local room scales to the entire solar system being one giant puzzle.
Where the game truly is unparalled is how it manages to capture the extent of our knowledge of our universe into a game. There are black holes harnessed as engines, and to fall into one is something that feels new. There are quantum phenonmenon - for example locality. Looking at a rock? Look elsewhere, and the rock would have moved. This is the key to solving several puzzles and understanding the story. It is hard to avoid giving spoilers, because the game only keeps extending the cool stuff and making it grander. There is no lull, no repetition, no area or puzzle that is not a new perspective on things.
This game is an amazing sci-fi novel packaged into a visual medium that you - the player - gets to play and to make your own choices and decisions as to how you want to experience the story. Someday, when I no longer recollect the game as much as I do today, I will play it again. And I look forward to that time.