Some games are more about the experience than about gameplay or graphics or clever music, and Everything happens to be one of these sorts of games. And with no real story to speak of, it also happens to be the kind of thing that’s notoriously difficult to review, but we’re going to try, nonetheless.
On paper, the premise of Everything sounds like something you’d hear from Dirk Gently: it’s all about the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. The best way to give you an idea of what’s going on with this game is to explain a short session with it. When you fire up the game, you start off as a speck of matter, floating through the universe and thinking to itself about what existence is. You’re then dumped on a world in the body of an animal (the first time it was a pig, and the second time I played I was a deer, so I gather it changes every time) and you’re left to roll around the world. There’s no explanation, and you find that the rocks and trees and grass all have their own opinions about things.
About this time, you are given a new power: to descend, which means to inhabit something else smaller than you, and this is where I started being fascinated with the game, since I started as a rock and then became grass, became an ant, and then became a bacterium. You can also ascend to become bigger things, and interestingly enough, time passes at different rates for differently-sized things. At some point, you can become a galaxy, and then become a single point of Planck length, whereby the game cycles around the sizes again, going from there to atoms to molecules to complex creatures and so on. It’s all a little strange.
Without context, it’s a bizarre enough experience, but all of it is punctuated by excerpts of a lecture by philosopher Alan Watts. The lecture is specific to the game’s idea on perspective and universality, and gives a fascinating window on the events happening in-game.
As you manage to become something, it gets added to the game’s encyclopedia of things, and the sheer number of things in the game is somewhat of a surprise; the only missing animal I could think of was humans. The end-goal of Everything is to complete the encyclopedia of things. It sounds simple, but finding the missing things can become an obsession.
One trick you can use is to just leave the game by itself and watch, since it happily starts playing itself if left alone for a few seconds. It randomly ascends and descends within given periods, and would otherwise make for a trippy screensaver. It’s difficult to just leave it be for long, though, because inevitably you’re going to want to pick it up and do something or be something again. It’s this part of Everything that lets me know that it’s more than just an idle art project, more than just a curiosity.
Everything is a minimalist experience, graphics-wise. Creatures barely animate, and the scenery is not going to be blowing anyone’s hair back any time soon. It has a sort of Katamari Damacy-esque feel to it, but without the cutesy charm and zaniness that made the game the sleeper hit it was. To be fair, though, this isn’t the core of the experience, and what it lacks in graphical fidelity it makes up for in sheer, crazy volume of things. I’ve been everything from a whale to a piano to a letter of the alphabet, a stone tower, a continent, and a stellar cluster, and all the way back again.
It’s a difficult game to evaluate, because there’s very little gameplay and less direction, but developer/artist David O’Reilley is known for this sort of thing. Can I recommend you play it? If you’re deep into the philosophy of mind and will appreciate the work of Watts, then I really heartily recommend Everything. You might find it a delightful, awakening experience. If experimental games-slash-toys and philosophy don’t do it for you and you prefer your games with more shoot-em-boom-boom, you will probably have to look elsewhere. But you’ll likely miss out on the deepest, thinkiest game you’ll ever own.