Back in the early 90s, video games settled into two broad genres, especially when it came to European games writing. They were the ”em up’ and the ‘sim’. You either simulated or did things to stuff. Any racing game? Car sim. Guns? Shoot ’em up. Populous? God sim. Punches? Beat ’em up (yes, Americans, to us zoo going magazine reading British kids, Streets of Rage and Street Fighter were of the same genre. We paint with broad brushes). Sim City? City sim sim. Boxing game? Ooh, that’s a tricky one.

David O’Reilly was most recently known for iOS and PC interactive toy thing Mountain. Mountain was definitely a sim. You played as a mountain in it, and mountains not really being able to do much, not much happened in it. It certainly wasn’t a transitive experience; you never did anything to anything else. It wasn’t a mountain ’em up. As a simulation of a mountain, it was fairly realistic to boot.


Here is its follow up. Everything generates a universe and allows you to play as everything within. You navigate around, and use the triggers when near another item, be it animal, vegetable, mineral or otherwise, to assume control. This works at every possible scale, allowing you to move from the molecular level, all the way up to assuming control of continents, planets, stars, galaxies and entire existential plains.

Control assumed, what are you doing? Is this an existence sim, or a be ’em up? Well, Everything definitely doesn’t aim for realism. The things you assume control of wrestle with existential crises, expressed in thought bubbles, but they don’t need to mate or eat. There’s not advancement in a traditional sense here, and certainly no fail states. Animals all move by hurtling themselves into a jerky forward roll. Buildings, mountains and land masses move too; gliding about the map in a way that never ceases to be comical. In imbuing everything in Everything with a sense of life, and through its low poly visuals, O’Reilly clearly evokes Katamari Damashii, filtered through the no pressure lens of a Proteus.

So this is an ’em up, in 90s parlance. But a what ’em up? What are we doing to other things? Ask that question of O’Reilly and he’d stroke his beard that I imagine he has, look at you with a raised eyebrow and ask what ‘doing’ was and what ‘things’ were. Then he’d go ‘eh? Eh? EH? Ah.’ and satisfied, return to napping in a posh leather armchair. Probably.

Everything can certainly have a dim view of your worth as a being.

Everything can certainly have a dim view of your worth as a being.

You see, how much you’ll like Everything boils down to how interested you are in its philosophy. Quite literally, really; as you travel its landscapes you discover audio nodes that contain mini lectures from mid 20th century philosopher Alan Watts. An early snippet instantly lays O’Reilly’s cards on the table for him. ‘There’s no such thing as a thing,’ Watts says. ‘Once you can understand that, you won’t have any more trouble.’

As such, every ‘thing’ in Everything from a amoebae to galaxies performs in exactly the same way. It moves, can call others to form a flock, and can dance in order to reproduce (yes, including towers and houses making little baby towers and houses, which is super adorable). With no progression, in large doses, Everything becomes immensely dull; in fact if you leave the controller alone, it will happily play itself, allowing you to check in from time to time and see to what places your in game consciousness has travelled.

That journey itself is what’s alluring. While your verb set is incredibly restricted, transitioning between scales lends an interesting perspective, especially when you realise only those swimming in the microscopic soup or floating in space have the true freedom the Z axis grants; here only the very small and very large are truly free. Beyond restrictions of motion though, it’s a very open ended experience (‘wiggly’ as Watts puts it) that leaves things to you to uncover.

A placid one too, until it reaches through the fourth wall. There is a story in Everything, and while the game doesn’t necessarily force you to get through it, O’Reilly certainly goads you into doing so. Through messages and sudden and bizarre interruptions, you’re eventually sent on an extremely strange journey and come through the other end left to your own devices once more. While certainly a surprise, this brief storyline feels unnecessary and heavy handed. It mocks instant gratification in games, and asks you to cast unnecessary items asunder. To simplify, to bring up Thoreau, but it beats you over the head with the idea. In a way it taints the essence of the experience, and I was glad to be through with it and on to messing around with what was left.

So what is left? A collect ’em up? Well, kind of. Everything has its place, and in Everything, things are sorted by type into lists. You could easily take it upon yourself to ‘be’ everything in the game, or to uncover all of Watts’ lectures. You collect mechanics as well; abilities like dancing are locked until you explore widely enough; neatly the tutorial section has missing pages filled in as you play, so you have an idea of how much to uncover.

For me, more fun, and more open ended was the collection of Thoughts. These little concerns, observations and existential crises  experienced by everything in the game (yes, clumps of dirt think about what it means to be a clump of dirt) are saved as you come across them in a wall of text. Those saved thoughts then act as seeds for your own procedurally created thoughts to ponder; the more thoughts you take in, the more cohesively you can ‘think’ for yourself.

So Everything is a think ’em up. If we think therefore we are, then we’re back to this being a be ’em up. Everything comes full circle. Is it good? Well, that depends. Every closing statement on a review of Everything will by the nature of its title say something about the mental state of the person that wrote it. ‘Everything sucks!’ Is quite the dim world view. So here comes the cop-out. Everything is by turns wonderful, awe inspiring, charming, funny, slow and completely dull. Everything is what you make of it; it’s pleasingly wiggly.

KAIJU VERDICT

2/4 Pops: Decent  There might be problems that mount up and prevent it from being a top tier game, or it might not do enough to quite make it stand out, but a 2 can still be an enjoyable experience that the curious should try.

Review code supplied by the developer

About The Author

Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)