|Platforms||PC (reviewed), PS4|
|Publisher||Double Fine Presents|
|Release Date||April 21, 2017|
Review code provided
Everything is a simulation of the entire universe. A collection of philosophical musings that invokes players to think about existence and perspective as much as it does let you become anything you want. Everything is literally about everything – the ties that bind the universe together, from the smallest subatomic particles to the galaxies themselves. Plus you can make an army of zebras and charge around cities.
This is going to be a very different kind of review. Mostly because Everything is an experience that is impossible to review in the traditional sense. I use the word experience in a very purposeful way. Yes, this is a game. You use a controller to play it (sometimes) and push buttons to control your avatar on the screen. But everyone who plays Everything will have an entirely different experience.
Some will sink hours upon hours into it, inhabiting as much of the universe as possible. Others will roll about as a polar bear for a few minutes and get bored. Some will see the game as a transcendent experience, allowing its themes and messages to expand their perspective on the universe. Others will wonder what the point of rolling around as a packet of french fries is.
Everyone will have a different reaction. Even when Tom and I played some of the game together we were having different experiences. He found it depressing and trippy. I found it profound and rewarding. There’s no way to gauge how this game will affect any single individual who picks up the controller and plays it. I can describe what Everything is (as I am about to), but I couldn’t convey my experience without you being inside my head. With my thoughts and feelings and memories.
In Everything you start as a polar bear. I’m pretty sure everyone starts as a polar bear, from the people I’ve talked to about the game anyway. From there you slowly unlock the ability to transfer yourself into anything you can see in your surroundings. Penguins, wolves, trees, grass and more. Eventually you’ll have the ability to ascend and descend – becoming ever smaller or bigger. Assuming the role of particles and bacteria, or continents, planets and galaxies.
Nothing is off-limits. I started as a polar bear and several assorted animals and wildlife, eventually getting smaller and smaller. As I floated around as a dust particle I wondered why I was doing what I was doing. It was a novel concept, sure, but I didn’t really see the point. There are objectives that slowly unfurl before you, unlocking new abilities that grant you ever more control over everything in Everything.
There are also collectables in the form of audio logs. Everything owes a lot to the late Alan Watts, a British philosopher and writer whose lectures on perspective and morality will punctuate your travels. Truth be told, I barely listened to them. I hit play on every audio file I found (and I found a lot), but I found it difficult to concentrate on them as I wandered each state of being, trying to see what was next.
It was as I was descending, testing the game to see how small I could go, that I had my first “wow” moment and began to understand what the game was trying to tell me. I obviously won’t go into any further detail about my travels through Everything. I went on a journey that amused me, entertained me and gave me a lot to think about. About the universe. About my place in it.
If that all sounds a bit melodramatic, it’s not. It’s just my experience with Everything. Yours might be different. Scratch that – it will be different. It’s a procedurally generated sandbox simulation of the entire universe. It’s a game with more playable characters than anything you’ve ever played before. You can explore environments, you can make anything you can control sing and dance. You can even put the controller down and watch the game play itself, turning it from a game into a very strange documentary.
What made Everything such a special experience for me wasn’t its unique gameplay hook or giving me the ability to make an army of zebras. Those were fun experiences, but they aren’t what had such a big impact on me, to the point that I’ll probably remember this game for the rest of my life. There’s a moment in this game where you end up in hell. It looks the same as the rest of the game, only everything is broken. Characters that were once filled with encouragement and optimism were now filled with a bitter anger or mournful regret at missed opportunities.
It’s a place you can’t escape. Attempting to ascend out leaves you with the message that you are trapped. There was no way out of this neon coloured hellscape I had managed to fall into and I was forced to wander as the game seemed to tap into the worst parts of my anxiety. It’s the same shit that makes me want to delete these badly written, tangential paragraphs in favour of talking about the time I created an attack squadron of winter wildlife that assimilated everything in its path. Or make endless puns about “playing everything” because it seems silly not to. But I can’t hammer home how much I enjoyed this experience without them so I guess they’re staying in. Even though I’m not even sure they make any bloody sense.
It felt like it held up a mirror to my own life, to the silly things I hold onto and how much of an impact my anxiety and depression truly has on me. The parts that I don’t let out. The parts that I don’t show anyone. The parts that trap me, reminding me I’m no good, reminding me of all the mistakes I routinely make. And here I was, trapped in a literal manifestation of all of it. But Everything did something special – it made me fight my way back out. Instead of hating the game or falling into a void, I came out the other side of Everything thankful for every moment.
It reminded me that my journey is important. That my connections are important. That I’m important. That it’s okay to feel trapped and that there’s always a way back out, even when it doesn’t feel like it. And then it let me drive a flock of buildings through some streets and fly a planet through space, dancing with other planets and making tiny little planets in the process. It doesn’t sound like much, and I know all of my insecurities and anxieties are still there and probably always will be, but it was a profound few hours.
From a purely gameplay perspective it’s very simple. There aren’t too many ways you can actually interact with it. At the same time the level of depth in Everything is incredibly surprising – every time you think you’ve maxed out on the ways you can explore its universe the game will give you a new ability to play around with. This is coupled with a mind-bending sense of scale, some heartfelt writing and a very serene soundtrack to create a profoundly wonderful game.
And all of that is just the tutorial…
Everything is a game that won’t be for everyone. It probably won’t be for most people. At the same time I’d urge everyone to give it a go. It looks like an aimless sandbox at first glance. Even for those first few minutes it might seem like there’s nothing really to this game other than the novelty of playing as anything you can see. There’s a lot more to it than that. Some people are going to get nothing from Everything. Some will enjoy crashing galaxies into other galaxies or flying an army of spears through a wintery wilderness. Some may have a profound experience.
All of those reactions are right. The game itself says right from the off that you can’t do anything wrong. At a certain point attempting to review or even discuss Everything becomes a highly personal experience one way or another. I can’t really say this is a review, except that I promised one in exchange for my code. This is the best I’ve got. My own personal experience with a game I didn’t know existed until a couple of weeks ago, which had a deeply personal impact one me. Your mileage may vary.
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