There’s something extremely attractive about the unknown. It can induce fear and anxiety, but it can also entice and excite. To discover, to explore the reaches outside of what is normal is what being human is all about. If our curiosity wasn’t there to drive us forward, this world of ours would be an awfully boring place.
Games that toy with the unknown can be just as attractive. Most AAA games of today would rather hold your hand, splash objective markers everywhere and lead you down a focus group tested hallway. You don’t get many games that still offer that joy of discovery. Where the player is just let loose without any golden breadcrumb trails or shiny markers that promise progress. But Paper Beast is a game that wants you to wander and discover and let me tell you, it’s quite the expedition.
Know when to fold them
When Paper Beast starts, you’re already scratching your head. It’s unbelievably strange and it refuses to explain anything to you. What you can gather is that you’re part of some huge data stream and an entire ecosystem has formed from the bits of code and algorithms that have accumulated over the years. The story and motivations don’t matter because there really is no story. You’re dropped onto a desolate land with your two controllers and set free with no rhyme or reason for why and told nothing.
There’s this palpable sense of wonder as you explore this desolate, beautiful world.
But this is definitely a strength of this wonderfully strange experience. The game gives you your tools and you need to figure out what to do and solutions are everything but obvious. The world you find yourself in is this polygonal landscape that looks gorgeous in VR that is teeming with out of this world creatures. Some creatures are made out of paper and look like something out of an origami artist’s fever dream while others are these monoliths that scramble your mind trying to make sense of them.
The tools at your disposal are your two Move controllers. The left controller teleports you around and orientates you while the right controller can manipulate objects from an incredible distance, allowing you to pull towards you or push away. Everything in the world reacts to you and most of your time will be spent poking and prodding strange objects to see how they respond.
A tale of discovery
While you can be fairly content just strolling around the infinite data world throwing paper balls to origami horses, you need to progress by solving puzzles all over the world. But since the game relishes in being obtuse, you will often have no idea what you’re supposed to do. That’s when you start exploring the area, poking around, trying things, stumbling on strange devices or creatures and before long, your head is swimming with ideas and you organically find solutions.
Some puzzles can be a little too obtuse and you can get stuck in a loop of trying things that are not the solution for a while, but some ingenuity and experimentation will eventually carry you forward. Part of the charm of these puzzles is just how outlandish their solutions can get, so even while you can get stuck, you’re still enjoying the trial and error and interacting with these strange creatures and objects.
The game loves to play around with terraforming, harkening back to creator Éric Chahi’s previous game, From Dust. Sand can be manipulated and sculpted while water naturally sloshes around, creating this organic landscape that you can toy around with and possibly use to find solutions to puzzles. The landscape feels just as alive as the strange creatures that inhabit it and it’s used in really surprising ways.
Paper Beast ticked all the boxes for an experimental VR title that wanted to push people out of their comfort zones.
There’s this palpable sense of wonder as you explore this desolate, beautiful world. The fact that it’s in VR elevates it to a whole new level as you stand there looking up at the stars with childlike wonder or getting intimately close with the fauna and flora as you explore the unknowns in front of you. The sweeping orchestral score and excellent sound work makes everything even more immersive and to be honest, sometimes I’ve almost been moved to tears just by what I was seeing and hearing.
The journey isn’t a particularly long one unless you’re like me and took the time to put your hands behind your head and just drink in the simulated views since we certainly can’t do that in real life right now. It takes about 3-4 hours to finish and in terms of replay value, there are only some extras you can find within the levels that will unlock stuff for the sandbox mode.
The sandbox mode is this neat little area where you can place animals and plants, terraform to your heart’s content and manipulate the environment by causing storms or weird weather phenomena. The area isn’t large, but you can make a nice little habitat to sit and enjoy for a while. It’s surely not the focus of the game, but the bit of distraction you can get from creating your own little world is worth something.
Paper Beast ticked all the boxes for an experimental VR title that wanted to push people out of their comfort zones. It thrusts you into the unknown with no guidance and your curiosity is what you’ll rely on to move forward. It’s filled with exceptionally poignant moments, flashes of beauty and hints of terror until it reaches its impactful conclusion that manages to stick with you. It’s weird and outlandish, but rather than being too obtuse for its own good, it relishes in letting the player discover the unknowns it throws before them.
There’s nothing else out there quite like Paper Beast and that’s what makes it so beautiful. I’d classify it as an essential PSVR experience and one that you’ll not soon forget. Exploring the unknown has never been this exciting.