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Outer Wilds

it's rare for a video game to tell a story that cannot be told in another medium. My favorite example of this is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. If you know me IRL, I've probably tried to convince you to play it. It starts off mundane and honestly kinda boring, but over the course of its 4ish hours, the gameplay ingrains an idea in your head. An idea that you only realize is there when the ending reveals it in an equal part gutpunch and transcendant story telling moment*.

Outer Wilds is a game about, ostensibly, flying around in a spaceship exploring a miniature solar system, to unravel a mystery. Why does the sun explode 20 minutes into the day? Why, after that, do you wake up the morning of that same day?

If the developers were interested in linear story telling, any trace of it disappears after you exit the gravitational pull of your home planet. You won't be playing through a story, but there is some history, written on the sights and sounds of a handful of planets, waiting for you to dust it off and assemble it.

Every planet is a unique physics system that has to be learned and navigated. By the time you have scoured a planet, you've usually learned a principle that can be applied somewhere else, or a connection between two events. You never unlock an item, or upgrade a skill. The only thing you take back to the beginning of the time loop is a slightly better understanding of how the solar system ticks. Because of this, I recommend going in blind, and playing it often enough that the knowledge you gain isn't forgotten between play sessions.

The gameplay, the fascinating environment design, and the lack of an active story means that if you've made it to the end of the game, you have also invested yourself in the world. Instead of being dragged along through an experience by a game that has an exact story to tell, your unique journey is the story.

By the time you learn how to break the loop, you are confronted with the game's last, terrible, inexorable idea. An idea that wouldn't mean much if you didn't have a controller in your hands.

other recommendations:

Obviously, if you get to the end of outer wilds and like it, go for Echos of the Eye. Its more of the same.

If you haven't read "Out of the Silent Planet" by C.S. Lewis, I also recommend that, for reasons that might be obvious at either the end of the game or the end of the book. I'm probably going to go back and re-read it now.

If you have completed the game, i have a few final thoughts here

* also please don't play the co-op, it kinda ruins the story