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Review: Outer Wilds

[The following review contains VERY MINOR SPOILERS; you have been warned!]

Much like the cosmos itself, developer Mobius Digital’s Outer Wilds is a beautiful paradox.

The gameplay and core design philosophy couldn’t be more straightforward: you are an astronaut; go out and explore the galaxy. And there’s certainly plenty to discover amongst the stars; the worlds you’re able to visit are marvelously imaginative, from a hollow, crumbling shell of rock surrounding a black hole to twin satellites that trade literal tons of sand back and forth as they orbit one another, like a gargantuan hourglass. The narrative is refreshingly minimalistic and unobtrusive, allowing players to savor the spectacular scenery with relatively few obstacles or impediments.

Until, that is, the sun abruptly explodes twenty-two minutes into your expedition, flinging your character’s consciousness back in time to the instant before their initial liftoff. Then you repeat the process again. And again. And again. And...

Which is where the captivatingly complex plot and themes emerge. After you’ve been through the Groundhog Day-esque loop a handful of times, your mission gradually begins to evolve; there’s a mystery to unravel—perhaps the enigmatic artifacts and ancient ruins that your extinct extragalactic precursors left scattered across multiple planets hold the key to averting the impending disaster. As you gather clues in your desperate search for answers, you’ll grapple with numerous existential questions (Is there a greater intelligence shaping the fate of the universe? If so, could its intentions possibly be nefarious? Is the cessation of existence itself truly inevitable?)—and maybe even learn a thing or two about quantum entanglement and temporal anomalies…

…if you’re so inclined, anyway. Like I said, Outer Wilds demands very little from its players, leaving them to their own devices for the most part. The “illusion of choice” in video games has become a popular topic for discussion and debate in recent years, but the team at Mobius has offered up the best kind of freedom: a genuinely self-guided interactive experience. They’ve constructed a gorgeous virtual sandbox; where you go and what you do within its limits and boundaries is entirely up to you.

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