The Sci-Fi Video Game Everyone Needs To Play Once

I’ll never forget the first time Outer Wilds made me say “holy shit”.

I had received the starting keys for my spaceship for the first time. Still confused, still a little unsure. What’s happening? What is this video game about? How does it all work? Where shall I be walk?

Nonetheless, I followed the instructions. I approached my spaceship – a rickety wooden shack of a thing. I pushed a few buttons and soon I was in the water, flying effortlessly into the darkness of space. Still confused. Still unsure. What the hell is going on here? I do not understand that Everyone.

Then, in the distance, a planet. A glowing green dot in the void. “I guess I’ll go there,” I said to myself, more out of confusion than anything else.

I fought the ship’s controls and steered toward the green planet, eventually hurtling at top speed into its dense green atmosphere. “I can’t see shit,” I whispered, but then I emerged from the fog.

I could not believe my eyes.

giant deep

Giant’s Deep still blows my mind to this day.

Annapurna Interactive

I only had a split second before splashing headfirst into the sea, but I saw it. This was a water planet the size of a toy. But that didn’t scare me – it was the hurricanes. At least six of them competing on the waves in an otherworldly storm. As I floated back to the surface and water poured down the windows, my eyes turned into saucers.

The wind whipped up as the competing hurricanes galloped across the surface, strong enough to take off whole islands into the atmosphere – literally into space – before crashing back down to the planet. I had never seen anything like this in a video game. I had never seen anything like it before, period. But that was Outer Wilds. In “Outer Wilds” the imaginative imagination is normalized.

“Holy Shit.

Outer Wilds is a video game about space exploration, but it’s also a mystery to be solved. Following in the footsteps of the Nomai, an alien race that died thousands of years ago, Outer Wilds is a game in which you play space detective and investigate the ruins of an extinct civilization to find exactly what the hell happened? The twist: Outer Wilds focuses on a Groundhog Day-style time loop. You have exactly 22 minutes to investigate before the sun implodes, taking your entire solar system with it. What remains: The knowledge that you have acquired in these precious minutes.

Outer Wilds is a mystery revealed in traditional video game fashion – through audio logs, written notes and so on – but the execution is so inspired you hardly notice the tropes. With its imaginative locations and subtle puzzles, Outer Wilds consistently inspires a level of awe like no other video game I’ve played.

In Outer Wilds, you’ll travel back and forth to a handful of different planets, each more bizarre than the last. Each is laden with strange advanced technology left behind by the Nomai. A clue found on a planet could lead you to a new location on a planet you have visited before. Slowly you’ll meander deeper into these dazzling environments and a deeper understanding of the mystery you’re trying to solve. There is no shooting, no complex platforming. In Outer Wilds is currency knowledge, knowledge that players use to figure out their next move and consequently solve this strange meta-level puzzle. The result: a constant, enlightening delight, a series of “holy shit” moments that make Outer Wilds unforgettable.


Brittle Hollow features an all-consuming black hole at the center of the planet.

Annapurna Interactive

Outer Wilds constantly inspires awe. There’s Giant’s Deep, the aforementioned planet with its competing hurricanes, but there’s also Brittle Hollow, a world collapsing before your eyes. Descending deep beneath the surface, watch as entire chunks of the planet are swallowed up by a black hole vibrating at its center. One wrong step and you could fail yourself.

And what happens when you fall through a black hole in Outer Wilds? Well, it would be rude to spoil the surprise. But it’s as stunning as you might expect.

Outer Wilds is interrupted by its holy shit moments. A quantum moon that disappears when you stop looking at it. Technology that allows you to instantly warp between two distant points. Twin planets connected by a pillar of sand that endlessly flows back and forth, dramatically reshaping both planets like a complex hourglass.


A constantly flowing pile of sand transforms both planets over time.

Annapurna Interactive

But unlike the cool, clinical sci-fi of, say, Interstellar or Arrival, Outer Wilds is a homely, almost sonic invention: a tiny snowglobe of a universe, precisely imagined and executed. As if it were expanding from the collapsing atoms in Bon Iver’s beard. That’s part of its charm. Its most offbeat moments inspire awe because they are set in a familiar, almost anachronistic, world.

You sail into space in a wooden ship and wear a space suit that looks like it was built in the 19th century. Their home planet is a hipster’s dream, like a shrunken vision of the Canadian wilderness or a grizzly bear music video. Outer Wilds’ unique characters swing in hammocks on alien planets and play banjo around campfires as the universe crumbles around them.

It all leads to this overwhelming feeling: you’re trapped in a universe where your traditional ideas don’t make sense. Where gigantic space travel sci-fi ideas feel beyond your primitive brain. All you can do is stare – in awe – as the sun implodes in a brilliant blue flash, your time loop is complete. Before you wake up again with a breath and ready to explore the strange universe of Outer Wilds once more with new eyes.

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