Paper Beast VR review – origami organisms

The creator of Another World releases his first VR game and it’s just as visually impressive as you would hope.

Paper Beast is the new game from Éric Chahi, developer of Another World, the classic and for its time, stunningly cinematic Amiga sci-fi game. Originally released in 1991, it made its way to practically every format imaginable, from 3DO to Nintendo Switch, but after working on some of those ports, and the slightly lacklustre Heart Of Darkness, Éric eventually left the games industry, and his most recent project was studying volcanos for a French museum.

Inspired by his work modelling extreme natural forces, he has returned to the world of interactive entertainment for the first time since 2011’s From Dust. The result is Paper Beast, a game set in a surreal, origami-folded alternate reality where flora and fauna is made entirely from paper. There are no instructions, and nobody’s there to explain what you’re supposed to do, you simply find yourself on an alien world with a controller hovering in front of you, and the rest is up to you.

Looking down at the controller, the game’s only text pops into view, labelling the grab and teleport buttons. The former lets you pick up and manipulate objects in the world, the other beams you to wherever the cursor is on the landscape. There’s no option for smooth turning or continuous locomotion, which is always a bugbear for those who’ve spent more time in VR, but like reading movie subtitles, you soon forget about the interface and find yourself engaging with the world around you.

Aside from the beautiful and, for PlayStation VR, remarkably crisp-looking desert backdrop, with majestic cloud formations and strange, gravity-defying floating objects, you’ll also discover a range of paper animals, each of which has its own set of needs and behaviours. By observing each creature, you can usually see what it’s trying to do, and work out how you may be able to lend a hand.

Initially, that involves giving animals a nudge, shove or pull in the right direction, but soon enough things get more complicated, the terrain itself becoming either help or hindrance in getting the paper beasts where they need to go. You’ll also frequently find yourself at what appears to be a dead end or impasse, with no clues or further explanation, and it’s to the game’s credit that you’ll always stumble across the thing you need to unlock the next area before frustration sets in.

Each miniature biome forms a discrete paper ecosystem with its own built-in puzzle. Your job is to figure out how to help the animals based on the environment, whether that’s getting them a drink, feeding them, or helping them traverse otherwise deadly terrain. Sometimes it’s a water hazard or dangerous plant-life they need to avoid, and at others a snarling pack of predators, ready to rip them to pieces if left to their own devices.

You also soon discover that the solution to one puzzle is frequently a building block for later ones, the techniques you learn proving repeatedly useful, and often working in combination to overcome more complex challenges. It’s a rewarding process, and one that’s made more involving by the gentle sound effects and absence of pressure. There’s no score or timer, and no incentive to complete things perfectly or in anything but your own time, creating a wonderfully unhurried atmosphere that encourages relaxed experimentation.

It also manages to feel pretty magical at times, a sense that’s heightened by the occasional flights you take, the end of a puzzle rewarding you with a brief balloon ride across the parched landscape, before slowly fading into the next scene. Although short on excitement and without particularly hardcore puzzles, each solution still feels like an accomplishment, with both the intrinsic reward of discovering it and the promise of another mellow drift through the sky.

The beasts themselves are also wonderfully organic and natural-seeming. Despite being made of paper, they move like real animals, sniffing food sources, running from danger, and stumbling as they try and clamber up a steep embankment. It adds to the sense of being in a real, living – if strange and dreamlike – world, and also helps you feel responsible for your charges. Saving animals from predators feels like the right thing to do without anyone having to tell you.

There are times when the interface doesn’t quite feel responsive enough to complete tasks, where fiddly alterations to the terrain don’t happen quickly enough to achieve a level’s goals, but you always find a way, and with no punishment for taking your time, it’s never a problem if you approach puzzles with an open mind and no sense of impending deadlines.

Charming, surreal, and with a completely unique atmosphere of chilled out exploration, Paper Beast is a rich and engaging experience that works brilliantly in VR. It may not allow smooth turning and movement, and it never gets particularly taxing, but the spirit of discovery without guidance or handholding remains alluring throughout.

Paper Beast VR review summary

In Short: A whimsical and engrossing VR puzzle adventure, who’s lack of hand-holding and gentle discoveries prove consistently engaging and relaxing.

Pros: Entirely wordless and guidance-free, and yet there’s almost no confusion or frustration. Beautiful, natural-looking, and distinctly alien landscapes.

Cons: Only a modest level of challenge and limited locomotion options. Slow pacing won’t appeal to everyone.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PlayStation VR
Price: £24.99
Developer: Pixel Reef
Publisher: Pixel Reef
Release Date: 24th March 2020
Age Rating: 7

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