With a title like Everything and the ‘hook’ that you’ll play as every Thing, this game is ambitious. I also suspect some people will take issue with this being a game at all.
Everything is … about every thing. Everything is … an exploration of being every Thing. Everything is … very damned hard to explain. So, here, I’ll try to explain it1.
I began my game as a Palomino Horse in a sparsely wooded landscape. The graphics are almost cell-shaded, and reasonably low poly, giving this an ‘indie’ look. Moving my horse was a surprise as the horse doesn’t walk, instead it rolls forwards. Feet, to head, to back, to tail, and back to feet. In fact all of the animals I saw did this. It’s an interesting design choice, and immediately flags that this game is not about simulation.
You learn to move around, you learn how to hear other Things’ thoughts, how to ‘sing’, and how to join groups of other Things that are the same thing as you. You learn how to start a particular type of thought that is a spoken excerpt from Alan Watts‘ lectures.
Then you learn to “Decend’, that is become another Thing (a smaller Thing) by transferring to it. You descend to being grass, or an insect, or a seed. Later, you can also ascend, working your way back up to large rocks and trees. Each of these can still move around. Rocks shuffle, trees grow into a new position with each movement, the old tree fading away from the old position.
In some cases you can simply ‘Decend’ without choosing another Thing to descend to. Ditto with ‘Ascend’.
How low can you go? I’ve gone down to atoms, then down to three dimensional polyhedrons.
How high can you go? I’ve been a lenticular galaxy.
Each type of Thing can group and can dance (which can result in new versions of that Thing). You can later group with similar things as well with exactly the same Thing.
As you go, you’ll have become more and more Things, heard more snippets of lectures, and heard a lot of other Things’ thoughts. Eventually you’re able to choose to become one of the Things you’ve been before, simply by choosing from a menu. This means you can be an insect in a solar system; or perhaps a galaxy in a landscape.
With that description, you might be wondering what the point is? What’s the goal?
From a ‘game’ perspective, I would say that one goal is to become one of every Thing – complete your collection of – well – everything! I actually don’t know how many Things are in Everything. I have to assume, for reasons of device storage and memory limitations, that the game does not, in fact, allow you to become one of every Thing that has ever, or will ever exist.
I may be wrong.
Beyond that, the game is almost an exploration of Alan Watts’ ideas. Of course there are the explicit bits of lecture that you can listen to as you find them. The fact that you can become other Things, and Ascend and Descend the Things, makes it somewhat of a metaphor for the connectedness of Things that he expounds. You could say you’re wandering through part of Watt’s mind.
I should say that you don’t explore the worlds as physical entities. The maps are mere window dressing. They’re small and loop back on themselves, so you can keep going in the one direction and just come back to the place you started. Once you’re familiar with the world, you begin to ignore it, and focus more on exploring the way Things relate to each other. It’s quite meta, really.
While I could critique much of the game negatively for how it does things (the rolling horses being the most immediate example), I’d rather mark that as a deliberate style choice.
However, in making this a ‘game’, they have made a few errors of interface judgment. Down the bottom is a small message queue. It tells you things like what Thing you’ve become, if it’s added to your list of Things, and if you’ve added a new class of Thing (animals, fungus, etc). However, when Watts is narrating, and you have subtitles on, these write straight over the top of that list. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a small thing that irritates.
Another thing that irritates is the explicit concept of ‘up and down’. You cannot look directly up or directly down. When you’re an animal on land you can work out which is which, and it’s not a huge issue. However, when you’re some kind of amoeba, or a galaxy, there is no explicit ‘up’ and trying to swing the camera to view something in particular can be an issue if it’s too far ‘up’ or ‘down’.
I initially didn’t know what to make of Everything. The fact that the horse ‘rolled’ rather than walked made the whole thing look very cheap and even more ‘indie’ than you’d expect. As you begin moving between things, you find that inanimate Things can also move and the whole thing just becomes another video game abstraction. Eventually, the only reason I cared about what my current Thing was, was if I was looking to join other Things for the purposes of grouping, dancing, or whatever.
I also kept thinking “I’ll give up in a minute and go back to Mass Effect: Andromeda“. Except I didn’t. For some reason I kept playing, finding new Things, and exploring the Things around those Things.
From what I can tell, there are a lot more things for me to become than I have become; simply because my Lists of Things are still very empty.
Interestingly, I’ve been playing Mass Effect: Andromeda (MEA) since I wrote the last bit, and while I keep meaning to go back to Everything, I haven’t. Which might be because I’m enjoying MEA too much; or because Everything is only able to capture my attention for a short period.
I guess we’ll find out which it is in time.