In addition to our 2021 Major Game Awards, every member of the PC Gamer team has focused on the games they love this year. For the rest of this month, we will release the new employee draft and our main awards.
The frustrating thing is that no one will let you destroy Outer Wilds. I’m desperately waiting for the moment when we all agree that it has been long enough since the game was released in 2019 to talk about it endlessly. In this game, you want to share stories about how you stumbled upon every bit of information and which puzzles flatten your brain. Most importantly, I want to talk about the ending. Some people say that “Outside Ambition” is the only truly melancholic game. This is not only correct, but its ending highlights this point, not because of its pessimism towards the end of the world, but because of its optimism.
The echo of the eye made this frustration worse. DLC, sequels, or expansions-no matter what you call them-reposition the main game’s view of the end of the universe. If the original is about curiosity about the unknown, then Echoes of the Eye is about the fear of things you don’t know-and how this fear affects every aspect of your life. The way it ends is brief, but almost as heartbreaking as the original ending, especially when you finish the base game again.
The structure of Echoes of the Eye is roughly the same as the base game. You wander around on a planet, gathering information about races that died long before you got there. Hidden in this process is the moment of discovery. At this moment, a new planetary rule is before you, allowing you to traverse it and solve its problems. The DLC focuses on starting with one of these interruptions, which essentially puts you into another type of timer, on top of the game’s 22-minute solar explosion cycle. Although it may seem daunting at first glance, you will eventually understand how the quirks of this planet are related to what is actually happening inside.
Many large games have these huge visual moments, letting you dazzle you with the money developers spend on them. This series of revelations, like in Marvel movies, usually hides that nothing else happens. In a shooting game, when a bridge falls from under you, you will never go back to that bridge again and again, just like you did in Outer Wilds. Echoes of the Eye follows the example of the basic game, using its positioning moment as a sign of your progress towards the central mystery. When you return to them in another loop, they will help you determine what to do in the next few minutes, guiding your progress without objective markings or task logs.
The difference between Echoes of the Eye and the base game is that it encourages you to break it. By placing you in an environment with unique rules, it will prompt you to experiment more than in the base game. It challenges your assumptions about how everything works, such as how it maps to a new type of failure state. It may feel wrong at the moment, but this is actually just an extension of the developer’s keen understanding of how to teach you to interact with the world.
In the second half of Echoes of the Eye, developers use terror to push you to make progress under duress. It’s scary at first, and even difficult, but you will soon discover how gentle the threats are—and learn how to plan around them. A specific animation for the failure state is done very well here, and it reinforces the developer’s care about the way players learn in the experience-even though this is the most offensive part.
This kind of goodwill throughout the game design is the root cause of Outer Wilds, and this is why Echoes of the Eye can also work. Failure will never be punished so severely that you don’t want to try again. When you encounter difficulties, it gives you the opportunity to reflect on your progress and how to move forward through the previous game slides. These short videos depict a group of people who, although their decisions are firm, are as easy to make mistakes as you. The end of their story illustrates this by focusing on their major, accidental mistake, and even so, no matter how tragic it is, it can be forgiven.
Soon after I saw the final Evangelion reconstruction movie, Echoes of the Eye came out. Neon Genesis Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Turns the nihilistic series about teenagers, machinery, and repetitive end-of-the-world events into a story with a sense of community, hope, and forgiveness three times over and over again. Not everyone can go back and rewrite their stories in 26 years, but the surprisingly optimistic shift in Evangelion reflects the shift we have seen in the recent media, especially in areas like Kentucky Highway Zero and Ukraine. The Mulangi generation and the current Echo of Eyes are in games like this. So many games portray the end of the world as violence and isolation. These have been difficult years. After the ongoing pandemic and the imminent threat of climate change, people can feel that the end is coming. Echoes of the Eye and similar recent games remind us that even in the worst case, we can still find ways to care for each other.