Eric Chahi, founder of developer Pixel Reef, likes “building immersive worlds with a poetic touch.” They’re often abstract worlds full of mystery and with rules unlike any you’ve seen before. You’ll likely have already seen these worlds in games like Another World, Heart of Darkness, or From Dust. Now his team has unleashed another world in the form of PlayStation VR title Paper Beast. It’s certainly a world worth visiting.
This isn’t the first impression you get, though. As the game’s Quasar Computer loads a simulation of a massive star’s collapse, you must play the SwirlyBeat music app while you wait. An upbeat tune plays in the background, mysterious shapes (which you can move and throw around) vibrating to its beat. Psychedelic colors and patterns surround you. Paper streamers and confetti fall from the sky. You wonder what the point of this is, but then the simulation breaks and you’re plunged into darkness.
The pretty, painterly-style world into which you emerge couldn’t be more different, and it’s definitely a Chahi creation. The sun beats down across a vast desert that’s interrupted only by sporadic rock formations. Colorful letter-shaped clouds sit on the horizon. There’s very little water to be found—except the occasional oasis—and even fewer plants. Like all life in this world, those that can be found are made from paper. This includes the game’s titular paper beast under which you’ve just been standing.
Paper Beast Review – A World of Strange Creatures
The giant dinosaur-esque beast is surprised to see you, but he poses no threat. In fact, not a single one of the creatures in this world seems to care about your existence. They’re just going about their daily lives, trying to survive in this peaceful but inhospitable world. While the creatures pose no threat to you, the world itself can have other ideas.
Whether it’s a deep and expanding sinkhole, a severe sandstorm, an extremely dark night, or a volcanic eruption, all must be treated with caution. They’re also a threat to your animal companions. Despite your inability to communicate with them, you feel for them when their lives are in danger. One of the game’s most heart-wrenching moments came when a creature collapsed in the desert after its water source dried up and it felt like there was nothing I could do.
Throughout the game you meet a variety of creatures, all with different habits. The papyvorus are trying to avoid becoming a predator’s next meal. Insects scuttle across the floor, creating balls of sand just like a dung beetle would. Creatures that can only really be described as animated mops can dig trenches in the sand. These different habits become important because they’re the key to progressing through the game.
You can view a control scheme if you bring the controller close to your face. Otherwise, the game gives no prompts or objectives. Instead, you must investigate the world at your own pace and use your initiative. While none of the puzzles are difficult, they are confusing at first as you get to grips with how the world works. Most of the game is spent observing the behavior of the creatures and the surrounding environment.
Once you start to realize how things behave, recognizing your next objective becomes second nature, whether it’s a creature that’s behaving differently to its companions or a plant that needs to grow. Progress is far easier, even as the world changes around you. The game is mostly played out in the desert under the beating sun, but as it advances you’ll visit more diverse environments, like an underground cave system or an icy mountain, each with their own unique challenges.
Paper Beast Review – Creating Your Own World
The game’s story is short, taking just a few hours to get to the end. If you’re wanting to make use of the game’s other mode, sandbox (no, not SwirlyBeat), you’ll need to make sure you find all of the game’s collectibles to avoid having a limited toolset. Chapter select allows you to easily get back to the point you need for a missing collectible. There’s even an indicator next to the chapter number showing if a collectible is present and if it’s been found.
Sandbox mode opens up once players have reached a certain point in the story. All of the tools are here to create a perfect utopia full of creatures and plants. These include terraformation, the ability to control the weather, and even the option to remove gravity. If you have more imagination than I do, you can create your own version of the Paper Beast puzzles, or you can try to set up your own predator vs. papyvorus battleground. It’s nowhere near the scope of games like the well-established Minecraft, but it’s where players will keep returning once they’ve gotten everything out of the story.
As with all VR games, the thing that often breaks them is the controls. Paper Beast has no issues with this. Picking up objects and moving them around is incredibly simple. The game uses teleportation to move across the world to avoid inducing motion sickness. As someone who is prone to this, at no point did the game ever make me feel ill. Turning the camera is limited to snap rotation, which may cause displeasure in those who prefer free rotation. However, it works well and should not put anybody off from experiencing the game.
Players can choose to use either a DualShock 4 controller or a pair of Move remotes. Each has its benefits. If using Move remotes, player traversal is mapped to the left remote while object manipulation is mapped to the right. If using a DualShock, these are mapped to the respective sides of the controller, but you have just a single pointer (mapped to the controller’s light bar) for both functions. They’re easy to understand, and if you ever forget how to do something, you can just bring the controller back up to your face for a refresher.
Eric Chahi’s latest creation is a worthwhile PlayStation VR experience, especially if you like your worlds to be mysterious and interesting to explore. The game never holds your hand, instead leaving it up to you to discover its secrets. The puzzles can feel confusing at first until you get used to the game’s unexplained mechanics, although the simple controls help things along. Even though the story is short, the sandbox mode will keep players coming back to this unique environment until your imagination runs out.
Paper Beast review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4 with PSVR. For more information, please read our Review Policy.