It’s rare when a game comes out that I can point at, offer a brief description, and expect with a fair degree of certainty that readers will know how they feel about it. Barbie And Her Sisters: Puppy Rescue was one of those games: you play as Barbie and/or her sisters and you rescue puppies. Boom, you know if you want to play it or not.
Today’s game, Everything, is actually quite similar (minus the whole Barbie and puppies aspect): it’s an art game about turning into stuff and roaming aimlessly. “Art Game” alone can probably describe your feelings about this one, but let’s go into detail for the sake of argument.
Everything is a fairly easy game to explain, at least: you are a Thing. You can become anything else. Keep becoming Things until satisfied. The definition of “Thing” is fairly broad and includes animals, vegetables, minerals, microscopic structures, geometric concepts and so on and so forth. Your perspective will change based on the size of whatever you’ve become, with significant shifts in perspective changing how the game “plays;” it’s possible to go from being an ant to being the island that ant lives on to being the planet that island is on, for instance. In an entirely unsurprising move, becoming bigger than the biggest Thing possible wraps you around into the smallest Thing possible, because we’re all connected, maaaan. Groovy.
Hearing this, you’d expect there to be a complex system of interactions between various Things, perhaps some sort of ecosystem simulator! You’d be wrong, of course, because this is a $15 PSN game. Most Things barely even “move,” with animals in particular just sort of rolling around like plastic toys, which is simultaneously irritating in its waste of the concept’s potential and hilarious because you can form giant herds of polar bears all rolling around like dice. Each Thing can also “sing” by making a noise or “dance” when in a group with other Things, which can result in birthing new Things if you wish.
Each Thing has its own little blurb to read in a giant menu-based list of every Thing you’ve become, which was really exciting and made me want to run around collecting new Things for hours right up until I read to the bottom of one and discovered it was just an excerpt from a Wikipedia entry.
That’s pretty much it, really! There’s a Metroid-style progression in terms of unlocking new tools, with perhaps the most significant being the ability to return to any Thing you’ve already been, but Things are indistinct enough that what you are at any given time doesn’t really change much in terms of “gameplay,” such as it is. That might actually be the point, as a series of recorded lectures from philosopher Alan Watts would suggest; said lectures are the biggest reason to play this game and exploration is encouraged by offering you the next portion of a given talk.
Look, Everything is clearly aiming for a certain kind of player and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably not the target audience. This is yet another attempt at codifying Games As Art, a walking simulator at the core, and the days when I would have been impressed with this sort of thing are long past, crushed out of me by countless indie repetitions of the same old song. Eventually you can even have the game play itself while you just sit back and watch. I spent my time with Everything less amazed at the grand scale on display and more irritated that experience consistently felt samey, no matter what I was at the time. Surprising moments, like when I found myself as a slice of pizza on a crowded city street populated with noisy vehicles, were present but uncommon.
On the other hand, I can admit my own cynicism serves as a blinder when it comes to a game like Everything, and the Alan Watts lectures combined with the inherent majesty in how everything fits together is bound to impress many players. At $15 it’s also not an especially risky gamble to take if you’re not sure whether or not it’ll impress you. There’s a fair chance you already know whether or not you’re going to be into Everything, and if this is the sort of experience you’re looking for, it should serve nicely.