Watching Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time is a transcendent experience. Thanks to excellent cinematography, detailed production design, and intentionally detached acting, Kubrick captures the vast and hypnotic essence of outer space. The only video game that will make you feel something similar is Exo One, which is now available on Xbox Game Pass.
In Exo One, you control the titular spacecraft on various planets throughout space and time. During your adventure, you occasionally hear mumbled dialogue and get brief flashes of a mission on Jupiter that went very wrong and humanity’s attempts to build the Exo One spacecraft from alien schematics.
The narrative is intentionally subdued and takes a backseat to the visual experience, much like 2001: A Space Odyssey. And what a surprisingly simple yet exhilarating experience it is. The Exo One is a spherical spacecraft that rolls around the surface of planets, and players can use the triggers to intensify its gravity and build momentum or glide blissfully through the air.
It’s shockingly satisfying to roll and glide around planets like a spaceship-sized golf ball, and the camera always knows when to zoom in as you rush toward the ground or zoom out for a breathtaking landscape shot. Exo One is a gorgeous game too, so it’s an excellent technical showpiece for your Xbox Series X’s power.
The game lacks much in the way of UI, with blue beams in the distance typically being your only guidance on where to go. This minimalist approach in design is incredibly similar to the critically acclaimed game Journey from thatgamecompany.
Instead of telling a story about finding connections in a desert setting, Exo One uses many of the same limitations and design techniques to highlight the universe’s beautiful and cerebral yet frightening and infantilizing grandness. While most sci-fi games try to imitate the action and spectacle of Star Wars, Exo One proves that a more cerebral approach like 2001: A Space Odyssey can work just as well.
Admittedly, the references to Kubrick’s film are pretty on the nose at some points, mainly the importance of Jupiter, Monoliths scattered around alien planets, and level transitions that look eerily similar to the stargate scene. Still, Exo One is clearly a loving homage rather than a rip-off and the closest we’ll likely ever get to a 2001: A Space Odyssey video game.
The movie and game are around the same length too, so try playing this game next time you get the itch to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey again.
This indie game from Exbleative launched on November 18 and was part of Xbox Game Pass for console, PC, and cloud from day one. If you have an Xbox Game Pass subscription and love esoteric sci-fi experiences, you owe it to yourself to check out Exo One the next time you have a couple of hours to spend.
Exo One is available now on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S via Xbox Game Pass.