We like to compare the ideas of Harold Ramis’ film Groundhog Day to any experience in which the protagonist is required to repeat the same situation over and over again with new information learned from previous runs. Outer Wilds definitely fits that frame.
In Outer Wilds, you play the role of an astronaut hanging out near their rocket on a planet where the sun is just about to go nova. You have 22 minutes to figure everything out, including why you’re there, why the sun is going to explode, and what the deal is with the solar system’s inhabitants. It’s not enough time to get what you need in one go, but you will have more to work with when you try again.
Outer Wilds is a Groundhog Day experience, but the sci-fi world and mystery built around it is also genuinely charming and curious, even as it’s constantly trying to kill you.
What In The Outer Wilds Are You Looking For?
As mentioned previously, Outer Wilds places the player in a time loop where the sun is about to go nova and wipe out the surrounding solar system. Even if you do nothing and remain safe, the sun will eventually destroy you and the galaxy around you. There are plenty of other ways to die as well, such as being caught in a tornado, drowning in the ocean, be crushed by debris, flying into the sun on accident, etc. That said, once you die, a mysterious force warps you back to where you started with the knowledge you have obtained to do it all over again.
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At its core, it’s seemingly linked to an old, dead alien race known as the Nomai who left all sorts of clues and mysteries behind as to the state of the galaxy and the impending explosive sun. On each loop, your goal is to discover clues, tools, and shortcuts that will allow you to circumvent certain parts of your journey and get closer to the mystery of the Nomai, the sun, and the galaxy.
For instance, there’s a part where you must talk to fellow astronauts and discover launch codes to use the rocket ship in one loop. Once you know the codes, you’ll be able to skip the trip to learn them in the future. Where you learn the exact location of a mysterious island from one fellow, you will know where to fly on your next run to explore it. Each step should bring you closer to your goals, though if only it were so easy.
The Outer Wilds Is Truly Wild & Dangerous
If Outer Wilds were just A to B to C, back to A, and then onto to D, that’d probably be okay for some, but space travel and exploration of vastly different planets isn’t always so smooth. Each planet you visit has its own unique set of rules. Some will have massive gravity, making it hard to jump. Some have treacherous terrain that makes them harder to navigate. One planet is full of islands and tornadoes that lift those islands up into space before gravity pulls them back down, making for a tremendously nasty fall if the player gets caught on them without knowing what to do. Some planets even change and become accessible or inaccessible at certain points of a loop.
That is to say, while Outer Worlds’ environments are extremely varied and interesting, they also present distinct challenges that can cut each of your loops short. The more equipment and knowledge you bring to each loop, the better you will hopefully do, and the more you will discover. Finding what you need to circumvent a path can feel incredibly rewarding knowing that the next time you return, you will be able to walk right around or through a barrier that once challenged you.
Some situations will always be dangerous, which makes sense as you’re a tiny astronaut challenging a big galaxy. Accidents will happen, but by applying what you learn each time, you will hopefully be able to minimize those accidents and dull the fangs this galaxy brandishes at you if only a little.
Outer Wilds presents a very curious Groundhog Day frame with quirky planets, characters, and mechanics to overcome. Death is an inevitability, but the universe it presents seems worth a return trip after the return trip after the return trip. Each planet presents brand new opportunities, each character encounter brings all sorts of new information, and the ability to carry certain knowledge of locations and equipment between each run makes successful exploration and discoveries look rewarding. Those who are looking for an immersive puzzle that spans an entire galaxy may find the adventure of Outer Wilds well worth their recurring time.
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