Outer Wilds in the test - sci-fi discovery fun in an endless loop

Author: Florian Zandt
Date: 2019-06-04 15:10:00
The space adventure is an ode to the unbridled urge to research. But does this idea still ignite after the hundredth time loop?

The concept of the interstellar adventure was thought up by today's creative director at Mobius Games, Alex Beachum, as a graduate thesis in 2012: As a member of the people of the Kamina who live on the idyllic planet Holzkamin (who is really called that), you close yourselves Join the Outer Wilds Ventures space program at the start of the game. However, this is still in its early phase and has more to do with hobby handicrafts and chemical building blocks than with NASA or ESA.

And supernova greets you every day

In your self-made space suit and with a slightly crooked wooden spaceship, you should not only contact the rest of the astronauts in the program, who have carried out their mission to the most diverse planets, but also explore the alien civilization of the Nomai, their traces and structures all over the celestial bodies are distributed.

So far, so good - if it weren't for the problem with the solar supernova and the time warp in which you are trapped in space after the first big bang. The time rewinds every 22 minutes and you land back on the launch pad on the wood chimney. And not just that nobody but you know about the marmot effect. Also the fact that you have to solve the mystery behind the solar explosion within this tight time window does not really contribute to relaxation.

Great gadgets

An all-clear in advance: the loop in which you are located is infinite and unlimited. So you have all the time in the world to explore the visually perhaps not completely fresh, but charming and atmospherically enormously dense solar system from the first person perspective.

You will learn how this works roughly within the first loop. In the tutorial you will not only meet the sympathetic inhabitants of the planet, but you will also learn how, despite the rather spongy controls with your mouse and keyboard, you can successfully navigate through weightlessness with your jetpack, how to steer the spaceship and how to use your rather small but fine arsenal of equipment.

With the scout launcher, which you can use both at the wheel of the spaceship and on foot, you fire research probes equipped with cameras and lighting that provide images of the surroundings. The signaloscope, on the other hand, locates vibrations and sound frequencies. For example, each of the space travelers sent on a reconnaissance mission in front of you has an instrument with them.

If you follow the musical signal, you will sooner or later reach the warehouse of your colleague and there you can pick up valuable information about the respective planet. Finally, the translation tool lets you read the Nomai scripts left behind in ruins and broken space stations in plain text. This not only teaches you a lot about the culture of this unknown race, but also gives you hints on how to solve the extremely clever, time-based puzzles of Outer Wilds.

Knowledge is power

All information is stored independently of the respective time loops in the on-board computer of your spaceship, which is peppered with loving details . With each new loop, a denser network of knowledge is created that gives you just enough information to get you on the right path for the next round. Much of the appeal of Outer Wilds is to walk this trail yourself.

The planets, which cover an enormous creative spectrum from a marine world covered by hurricanes to the inside of a giant plant seed that has fallen out of space, should be explored without any prior knowledge.

Therefore only a vague example of how creatively the time mechanics are implemented in the game: The double planet twin ash is initially completely covered by sand, which over time trickles over onto the sister planet twin embers due to gravitation. This uncovered structures on twin ash, while sandy barriers blocked some paths on twin embers.

Correct timing is decisive for the game, you should look around in one world or the other depending on the sand level. However, it often takes several loops to finally find the right time for the next new discovery . The audio notification that the current loop will end in the next minute regularly ensures sweaty hands.

Take off smoothly

Despite the forced break through the self-contained game runs, Outer Wilds presents itself from a single source, without loading times and without idling , and at the same time enormously varied. If you take off from your home planet for the first time, you are directly in the freely navigable space and all other take-offs and landings also happen smoothly.

The planets you head for couldn't be more different. Getting to know their intertwined systems and ecological conditions and mastering their rhythms never gets boring. On the contrary, the geographical and playful density of Outer Wilds encourages exploration rather than the more spacious, but empty, open worlds known from comparable titles. Even if you need a multiple of the original 22 minutes for the credits: The adventure in space never feels like a waste of time.

Survival for dummies

On paper, the endless repetition of the same actions over and over again is the biggest frustration factor for Outer Wilds. In practice, however, the useless survival aspects tend to be annoying, as they emphasize the topic of the dangerous unknown but then have no real impact.

Of course you have to keep an eye on both the oxygen supply and the fuel for your jetpack outside of your ship, but you can charge both tanks without consuming any resources either on trees and fuel bottles distributed around the game world or in your vehicle.

The same can also be damaged in rough collisions, but here, too, landing gear, headlights or cockpit can be repaired with the push of a button. That is too little demand for simulation fans, but at the same time it keeps pure explorers too much from exploring - you could just as easily leave out the survival nonsense.