Exo One | game review
Strange shapes, sights and sounds.
Game summary: A strange signal... an alien craft... Exo One is an interplanetary, gravity-defying journey through space and time. (Xbox.com)
The first few times I saw Exo One were only screenshots or gifs showing a disc-shaped spaceship hurtling through a variety of environments and I thought it looked pretty interesting. Then I later heard that it was about maintaining a forward momentum, but didn't really investigate too much further and thought it would be along the lines of diving to gain speed so you could regain/retain altitude or something along those lines.
While that does form a big part of how the game plays, there's actually extensive ground-based gameplay where the disc-ship becomes a ball and you use the shape of the terrain to gain speed and launch yourself back into the sky. For the majority of the game, that's how it works, and it's pretty fun, but there are some very odd design choices that really puncture that enjoyment.
The first is that the ground-based sections that aren't there to just get you back into the air are not brilliantly laid out and can be quite frustrating if you don't have an angle quite right to go in the direction you want, instead finding yourself heading in the opposite direction at times. It doesn't help that a lot of the objects in these sections look pretty poor, which you wouldn't notice if you were zipping by in the air.
The second issue with Exo One is that your flight time is limited, and you need to acquire 'power-ups' essentially to stay in the air for longer. This concept works fine when said power-ups are placed either en route or, at worst, a little out of your way so you can easily get back on course once the flight time boost has been collected. However, not all of the power-ups are so easy to collect.
Exo One works best when you are trying to maintain a consistent forward motion, either gliding through the air or planning to hit the ground/water at the right time so you can launch yourself back up again. Making you stop in your tracks to collect a tricky power-up is a strange design choice, making you do something you want to do as little as possible (stop) so you can do the thing you want to do (flying forward) for longer.
This isn't a long or particularly complex game, but there is an enjoyably elegant simplicity to maintaining that forward motion through the strange worlds you visit that is completely undercut by sections that require you to control the sphere-ship on the ground or if you want to track down all the power-ups. Repeatedly going from relaxing enjoyment to frustrated attentiveness is not a winning combination for me.
I can't really recommend Exo One unless you can quickly blast through it on Game Pass, because what works alternates with what doesn't so often that I can't even advise playing up to a certain point and stopping. Ground objects aside, the game looks great and sounds great, but the frustrating elements were too much for me to enjoy the game fully, even if the last planet does leave you with a far more positive impression than the game really deserves.
Exo One does have its moments, but a lack of variety to its gameplay means it feels longer than it needs to be despite its relatively short length, and there are some baffling design decisions which seem to go against the overall design at times. It does look fantastic at times, and some sections are genuinely great fun, but it never quite comes together as a complete package.