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Everything review

Everything is a stew of contradictions. It’s slow and it’s thrilling. It’s silly and it’s clever. It’s strange and it’s familiar.

Everything was created by artist David OReilly, who worked on the video game animations in the movie Her. His only previous game, Mountain, was about being a mountain. Not much happened, but it was a welcome curiosity. This game is a lot bigger than Mountain.

It’s one of the most extraordinary games I’ve ever played, a magical playpen of being, rather than doing.

The premise of Everything is simple. I begin as a pig, roaming green hillsides. I come close to another thing: a rock, a frog, a plant; it doesn’t matter. Let’s say it’s an oak tree. I click on that oak tree and I am no longer the pig, but the oak tree. I explore some more. The oak tree creeps across the landscape, seeking out new things to become.

I’m intrigued, while wondering how long before this seemingly facile mechanic gets old. After all, my sense of being is restricted. As a rabbit, I do not seek out fresh grass, nor do I fear the wolf. I merely "be."

I think to myself, this feels more like a toy than a game, more like an art installation than a game, more like a statement than a game. And then I remember that defining ‘game’ is about the most boring thought I can have right now, at this moment when I am on the threshold of pretending to be anything I might want to be. Frankly, there are many things I might want to be that are different from what I actually am.

Soon, I find out that the somewhat horizontal world of the green fields is only one level of Everything. Exploration is also vertical. I can become smaller things and I can become larger things. This process, it turns out, is lovely. I keep going, and I’m back in the world of the infinitesimal.

There are little icons here and there. At first, they signify tutorial messages. Then they become ideas, snippets of speech about the nature of being and unbeing, about how we are all in this shitshow together. Some of them are funny, others are morose.

I can collect the thoughts and create random new thoughts of my own, derivative nonsense. In this regard, Everything is about the most true-to-my-life game I’ve ever played.

The game doesn’t hold back on its central position. We are all connected. We are all one. But it’s not as an earnest screed. It’s a wondrous tableau.

Everything’s philosophy is so simple and yet so confusing. You, reading this, cannot exist without me, writing this. Neither can the cat exist, sleeping by my feet. Nor the fleas in the cat’s fur, nor the horrid things that live off the fleas. You get the picture.

Sometimes I like to think of such things. Thinking big thoughts is comforting. This game is strangely comforting.

Some of the bubbles offer an extra treat. They play audio snippets by the late philosopher Alan Watts. His worldview was heavily influenced by Buddhism, but he was a maverick thinker, and a marvelous speaker. His voice has that gorgeous timbre of the educated mid-20th-century Englishman. I learn a thing or two from old Alan, most especially during my time as a school of salmon.

The whole business of merely becoming things is only a part of the game. I can also sing to other creatures. I can dance and thereby create baby versions of myself. I can multiply myself. I can create hosts of creatures and things, trundling across the landscape. There are many different environments to explore.

Everything’s gameyness has a tinge of Pokémon Go about it. There is a finite number of things to find. They are categorized. I see my numbers increase (I’ve been 37 percent of all plants!) and I desire more. Everything I collect comes with its own little biography. Now I know about protozoa and lenticular galaxies. I want to see and to be the entirety of existence. It is a collecting-and-learning game, if collecting-and-learning is something that animates you.

Fairly early in the game I’m presented with two moderately challenging puzzles. In the first, I’m required to return to my original location, where I was once a pig. Later, I’m plunged into a surreal hellscape of weird juxtapositions. Snooker tables float around next to giant brains, cellos, rollercoasters, videotapes and spoons. I greedily collect them all, until I understand that this place of meaningless random things is a trap. I must escape.

The dead things around me speak of their hollowness, the mistakes they made while in the other place, their regrets. I remember to try to be a better person. I become a shoe.

Mostly, Everything lets you loose to be and do as you please. I enjoy making small things very large or very small and placing them in strange places. A cockroach as big as a sun. A rhino as tiny as a mote. Once I’ve collected enough things, I can become any of them at any time. Look, I am a blue whale floating through space. Someone should write a book about me.

I wheel through existence, one life-form after another. It turns out that all things are infinitely variable and also, sorta the same as one another. Size, intelligence, beauty. None of these qualities signify much.

I think of the way my youngest child plays with Lego. He makes things one into the other, improbable concoctions. His imagination is boundless. This is precisely how I play Everything.

There are moments of real beauty. As a glider, soaring above a golden sea, I watch the dawn illuminate existence. There are moments of comedic ugliness. The way four-legged creatures move is downright odd. But mostly, there are moments of just being and chilling, playing and experimenting. The soundtrack is dreamy. Sometimes I stop playing and just watch the game do its own thing, but I can’t do this for long because I see a thing that I want to be, and the AI looks about ready to ignore that thing. This is how I know the game is working for me.

While playing Everything, I enjoyed the feeling that I was part of an enormous practical joke, not merely of OReilly’s making, but of the universe’s. It’s a game that makes me feel absolutely insignificant, no more or no less than a spider or a dandelion or a blue whale.

Most games are all about telling me how great I am. Look how I can best a thousand men, or marvel at how my mind wrestles and defeats this fiendish puzzle. Games set us above the common other.

But Everything is telling me, again and again, that I am unimportant, unexceptional. Just like everything else in the universe, I’m kinda cool for a bit, and then I’m boring and I ought to be transformed into a new thing.

This is an exceptional piece of fantasy fiction, a metamorphosis machine, a toy, a game like no other. It’s a work of deep imagination, humor and thoughtfulness. Everything held me captive for many hours, and will continue to do so. It's brave, bizarre, compelling and beautiful.

Everything was reviewed using a “retail” PS4 download code provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.