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The RPS Advent Calendar 2021, December 16th

Interplanetary, most extraordinary craft

Let's not sugar-coat it: you recognise this door of the Advent Calendar. You've been through it before. In fact it's possible you've been through it many times, now you think about it.

We're having another bite of the time loop apple, with Outer Wilds' Echoes Of The Eye DLC.

Matthew Castle: Is it against calendar rules to include DLC or expansions? Well, if ever a game taught us the joys of colouring outside the lines it’s Outer Wilds, a game about a time loop and the loopholes that might just knock you out of it.

Even more so than Outer Wilds, Echoes Of The Eye is a story about breaking through and busting out. Its new setting is a doomed spacecraft camouflaged inside an eclipse (those italics don’t do it justice). It may resemble a hula hoop but it behaves like an onion, home to a lot more than it first lets on, and hiding several more layers within that. Just when you think you’ve finally punched through to the rule that can’t be broken, oops, there’s a crack.

Yes, Echoes Of The Eye is an add-on to RPS’s 2019 game of the year. If that’s an unfair advantage, it’s one Mobius Digital doesn’t squander. This isn’t an easy victory lap around the solar system - by this point I feel I’ve squeezed every drop of adventure out of the place - but a self-contained adventure in a new location that answers to the same 20 minute ticking clock as everything else. The challenge in recommending it is doing so without trampling all the surprises. I’ve already ummed and ahhed through 1000 words of vague praise in an earlier feature, and it’s that I’d point you towards if you want to go in truly unspoiled.

Still here? Okay. The expansion adds a ringworld, a la Halo, but done for real. This is not a sliver of land with an awesome skybox to sell you on the fantasy. When you step into this world and look up, you’ll see the ceiling you’ll be exploring in a few minutes time. Reader, my lip may have wibbled.

That it only takes minutes to circumnavigate the structure is thanks to a river flowing around it. Backwater rafting is a perfect aesthetic fit for a universe where bluegrass music guides travellers between the stars. It’d be a dream holiday destination if it wasn’t for an astonishing act of destruction that drastically alters the landscape at a set point in the loop. Although you’re only one supernova away from enjoying those chilled early minutes again. In a galaxy packed with conceptual brilliance, this is up there.

A screenshot of a large grey and green structure from the Outer Wilds DLC, Outer Wilds: Echoes Of The Eye

But it’s the cleverness around, under and beyond the loop that won me over. I think of Outer Wilds as a cerebral Metroidvania: instead of unlocking tools to further your exploration you’re harnessing knowledge. Not just in the sense of knowing what happens when - although that is key to a lot of its looping cleverness - but mastering the rituals and science that govern the world. In the main game this mainly manifested in learning the behaviour of the Quantum Moon, but Echoes Of The Eye goes bigger on these puzzles. This is stuff it would be criminal to spoil, but I guarantee that someone at Mobius is a huge Inception nerd.

And as Inception told us: don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger. In an industry where DLC lacks TLC and expansions favour breadth over depth, here’s a rare riff with something genuinely new to show you, and one that slots perfectly into the whole. I look forward to Mobius Digital’s next game of the year, when they get round to it.

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.