I am on an indie kick recently, and woo boy are there some good ones.
Outer Wilds is about a month old and I’d be lying if I said I had paid much attention to it. Really, the case for a ton of indie games as there are not enough sticks to shake. This game is a real gem.
Combine exploration, puzzle solving, time travel, aliens, and a sweet set of art/music (Syp would love this) and you got yourself a game! It’s like a combination of Witness, Return of Obra Dinn, Heaven’s Gate, Majora’s Mask and a few more bits and bobs. Every nook and cranny here is placed with some purpose, and the brains behind the science/story really went into overdrive.
The premise is somewhat simple. You’re part of a explorer race, trying to find some lost folks and determine the source of some odd signals. That takes you (and your ship) across 5 planets to uncover the mysteries of a lost race. Except against trope, this lost race isn’t really lost, and they act like you would act. Each location you pick up some interesting clues that lead to other locations. The locations themselves change with the passing of time – one may decay into a black hole, another may fill with sand. This time gating mechanism either opens or closes puzzles to you, so there’s a lot of back and forth trips.
The core mechanic here is that each session lasts 22 minutes before the world ends and you restart anew. All the puzzles reset, but you keep notes in your computer about what you discovered. The final “steps” to complete the game are therefore done within 22 minutes (I think it took me 12, after a miserable failure) and theoretically you could complete the game on the first pass. I could also theoretically win the lottery.
The sci-fi hook is quantum mechanics. And the actual science version of it, not some fantasy kick. Things both exist and don’t exist at the same time. Things travel through time – or rather against time. You even come equipped with a little camera robot that can travel through the various quantum nodes. Yes, it sounds complicated but it’s a testament to the game how simple it become.
The downside to an open ended puzzle is that it’s quite probable you end up at a place where you are missing the hints to move through, or that you do get through and things make no sense past that point. That does make the 2nd hour or so a bit of a head scratcher if you find yourself at a wall and nothing is working. Take off, explore another world and a bunch of new clues will show up. Things that didn’t make sense before will become second nature (like flying). I was amazed at how effective I became at piloting through difficult terrain with 3D thruster; of course it took a dozen deaths by giant spacefish to learn.
Took me about 12 hours to get through the whole thing. I won’t spoil the ending, but it goes into 2001: Space Odyssey territory. It seemed a bit strange compared to the more aloof humor, but it does make you pause to consider. Not too many game endings do that now days.
Outer Wilds is a solid recommendation.