Paper Beast comes from designer Éric Chahi. He’s nothing short of a video game pioneer, from his influential cinematic platformer Another World to element-manipulating god sim From Dust. It’s perhaps no surprise that his next step, via new studio Pixel Reef, would be the realm of VR. And the result is a world quite unlike anything else.
At first, Paper Beast’s deserts and caves seem sparse when most VR productions are trying to wow you with immersive details, but there’s a lot more going on under the surface. The idea is you’re inside a simulation where big data has evolved into its own living ecosystem. As you navigate through the story chapters as an invisible, godlike entity, comfortably teleporting about the place, you’ll encounter an array of the titular origami organisms roaming the world, evidently inspired by real-life creatures but utterly unique in their own right.
Each has its own distinct behaviour and traits that become core to your progression, via its exploitation, such as a harmless sandworm you see innocently burrowing through the sand. The execution is ingenious and always playful, perfectly demonstrated by how you use the controller’s triggers and motion controls to grab onto flora or fauna, reeling them in or flinging them about like bait on the end of a fishing rod. There’s a touch of From Dust as you also get to mess around with the elements, from using hot objects to melt ice to throwing balls of sand at a slippery slope so that its surfaces have enough grip for those trying to clamber up it.
There are also moments when you’re reminded of Another World: not so much from the surreal landscapes, but because of some obtuse puzzles. While most are intuitive, and ask you to make use of what you have in each self-contained area, there were points that left me stumped as I experimented with a long-winded red herring, only to realise the solution turned out to be much more basic.
The pace, meanwhile, means you’re whisked across each new wondrous location like a tourist. Marvel at a new creature, figure out its quirk, exploit it to get you where you need to go, before unceremoniously leaving them in the dust as you hop on a balloon to the next place. That said, those who want to take their time fully experimenting can do so in a sandbox mode, too. Even if the campaign may be over in a few hours, Paper Beast never feels anything less than epic and visionary, as it takes cold data and turns it into a transcendent experience filled with warmth and life.
While Paper Beast has a pleasingly ambient score, the inclusion of J-punk rock band TsuShiMaMiRe really kicks things up a notch. They’re first heard at the beginning via a fictional interactive music app as you wait for the simulation to load up, while they return again to soundtrack a late-game show-stopping spectacle.
Paper Beast is a truly unique experience and one of the best PSVR exclusives.
Genre: Puzzle adventure | Format: PSVR | Developer: Pixel Reef | Publisher: Pixel Reef | Price: £24.99 | Release: Out now