‘Outer Wilds’ features cosmic horror-filled race against clock

By Aidan Finn, Staff Writer

Out of the many games I have ever experienced, “Outer Wilds” has probably the most memorable beginning ever brought to the gaming medium, which is shocking as few people are going to have the same experience.

It was late 2019 – half a week after Christmas but before the early-January blues of terrible movies and collective hangover – when I first booted the game up. I was under the assumption that this was an indie version of “No Man’s Sky,” another space exploration game with a loop of traveling from planet to planet.

The game started with me waking up next to a campfire after sleeping under the stars. I talked with a bunch of rejected Pixar characters and was told the usual plot of being the savior of the universe and the only one to venture out of the homeworld and was directed to my ship. I messed with the controls and was soon in orbit. I was shocked to see there were six total planets to explore rather than the 18 quintillion planets found in “No Man’s Sky.” I continued toward a mysterious tree planet, flying right into the foggy interior in full thrust.

A few quiet seconds go by before a horrific scream is heard behind me. I panic and turn to see out of the fog emerged a 500-foot tall angelfish – that creepy monster fish with the light dangling from its head (the thing from “Finding Nemo”) – charging right toward me. I had no time to properly respond other than to watch my ship, with me in it, be crushed in the jaw of the furious creature. I then woke up a few seconds later in the same spot where I started, the campfire still roaring.

This was in just six minutes. An introduction caused by me that could have gone in several hundred different directions.

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“Outer Wilds” is a 2019 action-adventure game developed by Mobius Digital and published by Annapurna Interactive (the movie studio turned indie powerhouse). It had a grand debut on Xbox Game Pass in 2019, gaining a near-instant cult following, with a Nintendo Switch release coming in the summer of 2021.

As I horribly butchered above, the game revolves around you exploring several planets in a completely hand-crafted universe. You have a spaceship, an iMac Pro, a pack of marshmallows and your intuition to guide you through the path ahead. Every time you die or when the Sun naturally explodes after 22 minutes, you wake up in your bed in what apparently becomes a Christopher Nolan remake of “Groundhog Day.”

The mystery of the game is to find a way to stop the sun from exploding, so it is once again up for you alone to save the universe. It’s a plotline that is nothing new in concept, but it is so incredibly unique and creative in execution that it truly embarks you on a quest of S-tier science fiction.

It’s a game where so many crazy concepts are thrown at you to absorb and tackle on the fly. A planet where sand is constantly rising. A moon where an infant black hole is destroying it from the inside. A gas planet that’s full of tornadoes and giant flying jellyfish. I don’t need (nor want) to elaborate on the planet of giant anglerfish. You have to overcome such cosmic circumstances as you read and uncover secrets from the ancient alien race who died long before you, whose downfall may shed light on why your world is falling apart too.

“Outer Wilds” is truly a game that leaves you in awe. Beautiful imagery of space and star systems capture your imagination, and then the next moment plunges it into horrific sci-fi horror. It is not specifically “horror,” but you are guaranteed to scream in terror at some point. It’s not a slasher, John Carpenter conventional horror, but it’s existential, like “2001: A Space Odyssey” terror brought to life through color and synth music, so the really good kind of sci-fi.

It’s a game that’s not for everyone. As I mentioned, my panic in 2019 caused me to close the game and not touch it again until just last week. I, miraculously on a replay, got to experience the magic of not being able to put a game down, constantly wanting to see what crazy cosmic horror this game had stored next. The nonlinear nature of having to comb a literal planet for clues may be too out-there for many, and the fear of deep-space horror may put off others as well. Those in the market for a genuinely innovative and absolutely unforgettable title, you can’t go wrong with this one.

“Outer Wilds” is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

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