By Marty Mulrooney
Everything is a video game developed by Irish artist David OReilly, published by Double Fine Productions. It’s a simulation where anything you can see, you can be – from plants and animals, to planets and galaxies – narrated by the late great British philosopher Alan Watts.
Everything is exceedingly difficult to review. It’s hard to adequately describe what Everything even is. It certainly isn’t a video game, at least not in the traditional sense. I started as an Arctic fox, stood in the middle of a snowy landscape. Moving this animal was a surreal moment, the first of many. There are no walking animations for the larger animals in Everything. Instead, they roll head over heels like demented blocks of Lego. A click of the right analog stick makes them call out. You can form a group and dance in a circle to create babies. It’s surreal.
The game soon reveals that the player is able to shift into any creature or object that is smaller than the one currently being occupied. One minute you’re an Arctic fox, the next minute you’re a small plant. Eventually, you’ll reach the atomic level. You’re carbon. The movement of the animals may be crude, but transferring downwards into increasingly smaller ‘THINGS’ is both startling and beautiful. Then you gain the ability to travel in the opposite direction.
Before you know it, you’re a continent. Then you’re a planet, before becoming a galaxy. The larger you become, the quicker time advances. Clouds whizz across the sky. You will soon discover whole new dimensions and planes of existence. While you’re busy becoming anything and everything (which in turn unlocks educational descriptions taken from Wikipedia), you can chat to the objects around you. A Metal Windmill might tell you that “The sand is mushy and makes a nice sound as it blows around.” It’s incredible just how chatty Everything can be.
You will also discover wonderful audio clips of British philosopher Alan Watts talking about concepts and ideas that will make you put your thinking cap on. His eloquent thoughts somehow perfectly match whatever it is you’re tinkering with on-screen at the time. All the while, the background music by composer Ben Lukas Boysen is suitably relaxing and minimalist, setting a languid, pleasant pace. There is no rush to become everything in Everything. Indeed, most things control exactly the same (although it’s oddly satisfying adding new things to your list of collected THINGS). Yet there is something to be said for instantly changing your view of the world around you with the mere click of a button.
There is no real story to follow, although the game does have some basic objectives that won’t be spoiled here. As the experience unfolds players will discover new gameplay mechanics, giving them increasingly God-like control of everything that can be seen and interacted with. Although the universe of Everything is procedurally generated and, despite the lack of animation, there is much beauty to be found. The pop-in can admittedly be distracting – betraying what is initially a mind-boggling technical achievement – but it doesn’t really matter in the end.
When it all comes together – the music, the visuals, Alan Watts – Everything is a transcendent experience. The reasons why it works – against the odds – are the exact same reasons why it’s such an absolute nightmare to review. Is it a game, a simulation, an educational tool, or an interactive art exhibition? It’s somewhat telling that letting Everything play itself (a valid option that can even unlock Trophies for you) is just as engaging as taking control yourself.
As I write this final paragraph, a zebra is calling out to a group of icebreaker boats in the middle of a desert. A large rock has just started playing another Alan Watts clip. The sun is setting and I feel very small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, a feeling that I’ve often felt before in everyday life. Yet Everything makes that feeling somehow feel OK. I’m a planet now, drifting through space. The final score of this review rates Everything as a video game. You may personally rate it much higher, or much lower. As an experience, it’s impossible to quantify – but I’m glad I experienced it.
7 OUT OF 10