Back in April 2019, the world was introduced to Paper Beast, a PSVR exclusive title that looked very unique – a silent, non-narrative experience with gigantic creatures made out of paper. I purposely decided to keep away from any videos or articles previewing the game as to me, this felt like the kind of game where you had to experience it yourself for the first time, a feeling which turned out to be true. I was extremely lucky and fortunate to have been able to play the game pre-release, I believe I’ve just played one of my GOTY VR titles and we’re only in March!
Developed and published by Pixel Reef, a new Indie development studio headed by Eric Chahi (Another World, Heart of Darkness and most appropriately, From Dust), Paper Beast is quite unlike any VR title I’ve played since purchasing my PSVR headset three years ago. Sure, there are elements and moments which can be experienced in other titles, but I’ve never had my mouth open in awe within every single scene and surprised by each new encounter and event.
So, come with me as I try to explain the beauty and charm which has been presented to us all within this amazing game…
I’d be lying to you if I said I knew what the story was within Paper Beast – I was literally taking each new scene as it came, sometimes with no idea what was going on or why I was doing the things I was. All I know is, I was rocking out to a musical number within the game, throwing around shapes and dancing with my Move Controllers, then I was stood within a vast desert, hiding from the sun in the shade of a ginormous beast made out of paper which was stood above me. From here, things only became more surreal, abstract, magical, and strange.
According to the information on the PlayStation Store for the game, the story is as follows:
Somewhere deep down in the vast memory of a data server, an ecosystem has emerged. Decades of lost code and forgotten algorithms have accumulated in the eddies and flows of the internet. A small bubble of life has blossomed. Paper Beast is born.
Confused? Don’t worry, as this is a silent puzzle adventure game, the story isn’t the key selling point here, that title belongs to the immersive and intuitive gameplay which is far beyond anything I’ve seen in VR this generation, maybe even flat games as well. The game takes serious inspiration and core gameplay mechanics from From Dust, a game all about manipulating the land with realistic physics in order to explore and expand your tribes…
Paper Beast is a puzzle game that requires you to both manipulate the real-time physics of the land and observe the numerous AI Paper Beasts in order to see what they’re doing and how they can help you progress. Utilising either two Move Controllers or the DS4, you teleport around (with snap turning) as you move between four levels within each chapter, solving puzzles such as redirecting the flow of water, flying hot air balloons, smashing mud balls to make climbable hills, and digging the ground to make passages.
The physics on display within the game are by far the best I’ve ever seen in VR before. There is a situation where some of the creatures have died due to exhaustion and they’re too big to pick up yourself, so if you can’t get them to water, you must bring the water to them. This involves digging a trench by literally scooping the ground with an object, gradually wearing down the sand and creating a trough. As you dig away, the water will begin to flow down the newly created ditch with realistic physics, overflowing if it gets too much and speeding up if it’s a steep decline.
Other manipulations you’ll perform involve: rolling balls of dirt down larger hills so they begin to grow like snowballs, allowing you to slam them into the floor or walls for more height and grip when climbing, using a sand-pooping turtle to divert or push water in a new direction, and utilising fire to melt ice into water and ice to freeze it again.
There’s a lot of puzzles that seem very similar but they all have different solutions and usually different processes to get to the outcome you’re looking for.
Each of the fantastical beasts you’ll come in contact with have their own personalities and absolutely stunning visuals. From the first giant creature who is shadowing you in the desert, to the strange blobby crab-like creatures who are too fat to get knocked over by the wind, I love each and every one of them! You have limited interactions with some of your new friends, grabbing and moving around their various body parts, or even lifting them right up in the air and throwing them about for the fun of it. But, there are some evil beasts who will attack and eat the others – these can’t be manipulated by you directly, so you have to find a way to restrain or avoid them.
I think my favourite has to be ‘paper turtles’. These big, majestic beasts have the ability to poop out sand when you’re guiding them around with their ‘follow me’ item. As such, their particular puzzle, which involves diverting a heavy flow of water so it goes in a different direction, was quite fun and surprisingly satisfying.
However, the most magical creature is one that I think looks a little like the creatures from The Dark Crystal, with a tubby body, long neck, and small head. I don’t want to ruin the moment I saw, as I absolutely loved it and I know you will too, but it was an event which left the poor creature shaking in fear and cowering underneath its many layers of paper striped fur – it was so realistic.
I’m not going to lie, the actual world within Paper Beast wasn’t as high quality as the character models. It looked nice but when you looked up close, the textures were quite simplistic and lacking details. However, I honestly can’t hold this against the game as it has almost fully-destructible terrain which can be manipulated and terraformed in real-time, so it’s most likely a little simplistic for that very reason. Outside of looking up close at the floor, the world around you is gorgeous, it really does remind me of Journey with the vast deserts, strange buildings and structures popping up, and there are even a few red sheets floating around.
Also, because the game is essentially taking place in the digital world, a place in which you’ve been pulled into, there’s a lot of references to remind you that it may not be real. At one point there were thousands of ink letters falling out of the sky as if I’m within a typewriter or MS Word. The creatures also try and communicate at one point by writing a message in the sand to you and you’ll often see letters or words in the sky. The whole experience is quite trippy and very surreal.
The further into the game you get, the more you’ll have to think about the solutions to the puzzles as the game introduces fire, ice, wind, rain, and even worms that live in the paper bushes! I will admit that I did get stuck twice whilst playing the campaign, not on the puzzles themselves but simply on what I was supposed to do. Seeing as the game has no direction or dialogue, I was just sat there, thinking “what does the game want me to do”? However, the solutions and the answer to the question were right in front of me, I just had to look at the resources the game gave me in that particular area and it all became clear!
As you’re playing the campaign, which will take you around three-four hours, you’ll come across various collectables which unlock new objects that you can use in the Sandbox. Once you’ve gained access to this mode, you can literally create your own mini-world by using a number of land and environment manipulation tools. For example, you can raise or lower the sand, ‘paint’ in water, convert the sand into water or stone, and you can even literally grab the sun and move it around the sky to change the time of day.
As it’ll be lonely on your own isolated island (which we’ve all had experience with now), you can spawn in numerous beasts – both good and bad – to populate your world. Not only this, but you can also set the weather, plant trees, and even summon both ice and heat blocks.
But, the best ability is what the game is calling ‘God Mode’. By performing a certain hand gesture, you can make the entire world shrink, making your island look like you’re playing From Dust or the old Populus titles! Sure, the sandbox mode is simply a place to come and mess around with the various things you’ve unlocked, with no way to save or do anything meaningful, but it shows off the tech used within the game and I had a blast messing about in it.
There are so many awesome things to talk about within Paper Beast. The technical side is by far the most impressive and ambitious game I’ve seen in VR so far. The way you can manipulate the land, watching as the water flows with realistic physics, is far beyond anything I could imagine. You can even get a hand fan in the Sandbox and blow all the creatures, watching as their individual paper fur flops in the wind independently – it’s very advanced.
The character models are brilliant, the animations are second to none, and the overall sense of awe and excitement was off the scale. Every time I saw a new creature I would run up to it and just poke and prod it to see what I can and can’t do – the discovery of these new and fascinating beasts was breathtaking.
The audio also deserves a special mention. Before you start, the game runs through a few tests with you to ensure the audio is set up correctly – this is so the developers know you’re getting the best possible experience. The game takes full advantage of the 3D audio, allowing you to hear exactly which direction the beasts are in depending on where you’re looking – it also has numerous ambient noises such as the wind, cries in the distance, and beautiful music.
Paper Beast took me on a journey filled with magical moments and fantastical creatures – I didn’t want to come home. The puzzles are all well thought out, the environments are beautiful, and the beasts are simply amazing, when combined you get an experience that is unlike any other, especially when you factor in the terrain manipulation and realistic physics. The sandbox mode was a fun addition, allowing you to mould and sculpt your own mini-island, playing God has never felt so good!
If you own a PSVR headset and y
- - The paper beasts look fantastic with lots of physics and personality
- - The water and land manipultion is second to none in the VR world
- - Intuitive puzzles which make you think about how you can either use the environment or the creatures to your advantage
- - Every scene will leave you in awe
- - The sandbox mode is lots of fun
- - There's no hints or guidance, so if you get stuck then you could get confused with what you're doing. (Most scenes are straightforward though)