STAFF REVIEW of Exo One (Xbox One)

Friday, December 10, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Exo One Box art Sometimes simplicity makes for a better experience overall. Exo One is a perfect example of this, showcasing fluid but simplistic gameplay within a gorgeous backdrop. Unlike anything else I’ve played before, I was quite impressed with Exo One for how fluid its gameplay was once you get the hang of its controls, able to freely glide, soar and drop to reach new heights and distances in your unique alien craft.

You piloting some sort of alien ship, simply starting as a sphere, able to defy gravity and increase your speed by rolling downhill with more force. You are also able to flatten out your sphere craft, shaping into a disc-like UFO or Frisbee, able to gain height and glide for quite a distance. Your goal is to reach a mysterious beam of light far in the distance, and by far, I mean incredibly far. It’s a good thing that you travel at incredibly high speeds, even breaking the sound barrier at times if you enable your gravity enhancer to gain speed, only to shift into the disc to soar further and gain more altitude.

Exo One doesn’t take place on any planets you’ve seen before though, as you’ll journey from one unknown planet to another, each with their own atmosphere and biome. Some are mostly water like a vast ocean, others are barren scorched lands or contain jungle-like valleys.

There is a story within, though very ambiguous at the best of times. On the anniversary of the ‘Jupiter accident’, mankind is sent schematics for an alien craft, which of course we build and called Exo One. Between each world completed you get some flashback and quick snippets of some narrative, though it’s all very open to interpretation after the credits roll. Exo One isn’t a terribly long experience, able to be completed in a single sitting after a few hours should you wish, but it felt just the right length, never wearing out its welcome.

The crux of Exo One’s gameplay is its flowing traversal across alien landscapes as you try and reach a mysterious beam in the far distance. Some worlds will have you flying and gliding close to the surface of land and water, where others will have you well above the clouds or even in space. You need to use gravity and momentum to propel forwards towards your goal, and Exo One does a fantastic job at making you feel as though you’re going at an incredible speed. I actually had to look it up, but the speed of sound is 1,235 km/h or 767 mph, and it never got old to go to extreme heights only to use my gravity toggle to plummet towards the surface, breaking the sound barrier and hearing the ‘boom’ that accompanies.

While there’s no HUD or anything on screen other than your ship and the weather you go through, as long as you generally point towards the beam of light in the horizon, you’ll eventually make it towards your destination. I actually found the lack of tutorial aside from the two button controls intriguing, as you can glide and travel in any direction, but you’re instinctively curious about that beam in the distance, so you naturally want to travel towards it. While there’s no checkpoint system aside from in between worlds, you also can’t fail or die, so it’s a very relaxing experience.

There's something zen-like about rolling down a huge hill or cliff, gaining a ton of speed and launching off the top of the next only to take flight for an amazing distance. This ebb and flow of altitude change is very meditative in a certain way, and once you can master the ‘flow’, it feels very natural to pilot your craft exactly how you intended. It’s all about finding that peak arc, much like the apex in a turn while racing cars.

Each of the world’s only last a short time, but they feel extremely distant and expansive given how fast it feels you’re travelling, especially in the levels where you’re soaring well above the clouds. For the other worlds where you can dive deep into the ocean, this may trigger some with Thalassophobia, as it’s serene, but terrifying being so far underneath the water’s surface.

When it comes to gliding by shifting your craft into a disc shape, you can only do so for a limited time, indicated by how much glow you have on the surface of your craft. Once your ship is out of energy, you’ll turn back into an orb and start to descend, but doing so refills your energy again, so this is how you constantly rise and fall to cover vast distances quickly. Once you get the hang of the timing it feels very natural and simply flows, feeling very satisfying when you hit those perfect arcs.

Most of the worlds are quite relaxing and meditative in their own ways, aside from two worlds that absolute frustrated me. One world has a storm that disables your steering and gliding, forcing you to only use your gravitational pull on angled slopes to try and ‘steer’ you the way you want to go by using momentum to get around or over steep hills. Another is a stage where you’re actually in space instead of on the surface of a planet. Here you need to utilize each of the asteroids own gravitational fields to gain speed and launch yourself into the next nearby asteroid to get close to the beam that will send you to the next world. While I was able to pass these worlds, they were by far the lowlight of the whole experience, though some might enjoy the variety.

While the worlds themselves are all varied and have their own biomes and themes, they are all completely lifeless aside from your craft speeding through them. I do wish there was a way to have a ‘chapter select’ of some sorts, as missing achievements on certain worlds means you’ll have to replay from the beginning all over again to nab them.

Exo One is visually impressive for how minimalistic it is. With no HUD on the screen, there’s no distractions from taking in the beautiful and mysterious vistas across all of the different planets you traverse. Soaring through the clouds at the speed of sound never got old, neither did having my craft hit by lighting storms only to energize my ship to allow me to continually glide further into the atmosphere. Some worlds are more visually impressive than others, but they all had their own interesting features that I wanted to explore further.

The soundtrack is just as fitting, having subtle light guitar or wind instruments that feeds into the mysterious allure of each world, yet also allowing the wind, rain, airflow and gravity take center stage when it comes to audio. Gliding makes a hypnotic whirling sound, and breaking the sound barrier feels impactful. Again, it’s very simplistic in its design, mechanics and audio, but that makes for a better and more memorable experience.

For how much I enjoyed my unique and memorable journey with Exo One, aside from achievement hunting, there’s little reason to go back and play through again unless you just want to chill out and have some ambiance. The gameplay mechanics are very intuitive and feel satisfying, captivating in its own special way. Exo One is a very beautiful and unique gaming experience, one that I’m glad to have explored.

**Exo One was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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