Review: Paper Beast (PSVR)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • PlayStation VR Optional
  • PS VR Aim Controller N/A
  • Move Optional (1)
Title: Paper Beast
Format: PSN (5.84 GB)
Release Date: March 24, 2020
Publisher: Pixel Reef
Developer: Pixel Reef
Original MSRP: $29.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: E
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Some games draw you in from their opening frames and never cease to let you go until the credits have rolled. Paper Beast does exactly that. It is an endlessly imaginative journey through a bizarre land inhabited by flora and fauna meticulously crafted out of paper.

You are dropped into the world of Paper Beast with no explanation as to how the game is played or what your role is within its narrative. You soon find yourself face-to-face with a gigantic insect/giraffe hybrid made out of paper. The creature moves stoically across the sci-fi desert landscape and you feel compelled to follow it. Doing so leads to the first “stage” of Paper Beast and introduces you to its outstanding physics-based puzzles.

The PSVR title is played with either the DualShock 4 or Move Controller, and as you lift them you see their digitally-constructed replica inside of the game, complete with on-screen button mappings. The game’s primary method of locomotion is teleportation with rotation. This has worked well for other PSVR titles before it and Paper Beast is no exception. Creatures and other objects in the world can be grabbed, moved closer or further away, and rotated. Grabbed objects can also be moved around by simply moving the controller to pull them around, as though on the end of a fishing line. The controls are intuitive and they feel great for the duration of the game as their functionality continues to evolve.

Once you become familiar with the controls, you can dive headfirst into Paper Beast‘s puzzles. The game’s wildlife is beautiful to behold and you cannot help but want to reach out and grab it – luckily you can do just that with almost everything you see. Curious-looking plants can be uprooted and fed to scurrying, gem-encrusted paper crustaceans which can themselves be fed to wolf-like paper predators. Knowledge of the game’s ecosystem becomes vital to navigate through each challenge that you face.

The lack of direction given by the game at its onset does not vary much throughout the experience. However, each puzzle has a fairly obvious objective, such as getting a creature from point A to point B. The difficulty comes in figuring out the in-between. Some puzzles involve dangling objects in front of creatures like a carrot in front of a horse in order to move them where you need them to be. Other puzzles involve terraforming the earth around you, whether to redirect a water source or to provide a path for creatures to traverse. In some cases it is frustrating to feel like you have no assistance from the game, but Paper Beast allows the learning process to take place naturally within the gameplay in a way that feels extremely rewarding.

The moldable nature of Paper Beast‘s environment makes for unique and technically impressive gameplay. For example, you can grab a small ball of mud that a beetle-like creature is dragging behind it and, while holding it in the tractor beam of sorts coming out of your controller, you can drag it through mounds of sand and watch it grow before your eyes like a rolling snowball. That large ball can then be flung at a distant hillside and will explode upon impact, leaving behind a large sandy area. Experimenting with the relationships between the in-game physics and the wildlife inhabitants is a joyful experience that never overstays its welcome.

The silent approach that Paper Beast takes in learning gameplay is also implemented in its storytelling. The results vary. There is certainly no shortage of moments in the game that make you stop and admire what you are seeing, but you are never quite sure why you are seeing them.

You may be able to find your own meaning in the events that unfold but the primary draw of the game remains its terrific gameplay. Yet, without a clear story to follow the game does still manages to evoke strong emotional responses through interactive set pieces. There is a meta-narrative that is hinted at the second you turn the game on, as you are greeted with a pre-menu screen that says, “Quasar Computer – Quantum computing for everyone – Your personal virtual working space is waiting for you.” Throughout the game there are code-like strands of numbers and letters found woven in and out of otherwise natural settings. These signs point to the entire story being part of an interactive virtual environment, despite the game reminding you repeatedly that, “This is not a simulation.”

In addition to Paper Beast‘s main story, there is a Sandbox mode that allows you to experiment to your heart’s desire with the game’s various ecosystems. The mode is deep and incredibly fun to play around in. Even the UI is polished and feels great to use as you flip between menus on a floating console and drop miniature items in pods that spring into their full-sized counterparts as they hit the ground. Within seconds you can transform a barren desert into a landscape brimming with life and vegetation. The terrain and weather can be manipulated as well, allowing you to call forth a raging storm then immediately drop the temperature to freeze all of the puddles left behind. There is a “God mode” that allows you a faraway, top-down perspective of your creation as you continue to tweak it. The Sandbox mode also adds replayability to Paper Beast‘s otherwise fairly short campaign, as there are objects scattered throughout the main story that must be found to unlock items in the Sandbox.

Visuals:
The visuals of Paper Beast are simplistic yet beautiful. That simplicity is somewhat deceptive though, as the character models and environments often have several moving parts to them that all remain faithfully reactive to their environment.

Creature models are vibrant, over-the-top creative, and varying greatly in scale and animations. They seem to take inspiration from various insects and mammals in the real world, even imitating behaviors such as grazing or stalking their prey. Some creatures seem docile, even sweet, while others are menacing or creepy due to their unnatural proportions and erratic behavior.


The terrain itself consists primarily of variations on an expansive desert with colorful, protruding rock formations. It does become a little repetitive over time and leaves you wishing for more variation in the color palette. On the other hand, when the desert landscapes are suddenly broken up with jarring splashes of color or unique scenery the impact is greatly magnified.

Weather and lighting effects are impressive and add to Paper Beast‘s level of immersion. Storms are all-encompassing, complete with swirling paper particles, flashing lightning, and sheets of rain that reform the environment they fall on.

The overall appearance of Paper Beast is one that you cannot take your eyes off of. The creativity and deliberate care that was taken in crafting every corner of the world and every animation is plain to see. The immersive nature of VR amplifies the surreal impression given by the game’s visual design.

Audio:
Paper Beast is not lacking in any aspect of form or function, and this includes the game’s audio design. Before gameplay begins you are walked through a brief calibration process, which includes adjusting audio volume. A tone is repeated as you adjust the volume level and choose the correct dynamic range for the equipment that you are using. The optimization process proves effective throughout the game; sounds are appropriately dynamic and spatially accurate.

The noises that the creatures of Paper Beast make seem to be inspired by nature like their overall aesthetics are. However, they have an otherworldliness about them that fits well with the game’s sci-fi setting. Their sounds vary depending on how you interact with them as well. They may growl if you lure prey their way or let out something like a purr if you hold up food that they like.

The music of Paper Beast is great. Throughout most of the gameplay the music is subtle and almost entrancing, but when the action picks up the music swells in a way that takes the emotional impact of those moments to the next level. The game also features songs performed by Japanese art-punk rock trio TsuShiMaMiRe that are an absolute blast and break up the otherwise dramatic score with shots of unexpected mayhem.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only and features no online component.

Conclusion:
Paper Beast is a memorable odyssey through a surreal and fully interactive environment. The experimental nature of the gameplay leads to a heightened sense of fulfillment when you complete one of the game’s many unique challenges. A simplified approach to aesthetics and narrative belies a deeper system of gameplay mechanics and the overwhelming sense of escalation that is felt throughout the game. Paper Beast is a showcase of creativity and polish that should not be missed if you own a PSVR.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Brock Arnett

Gamer since the NES days, Boilermaker, Colts and Pacers fan. I can’t wait until my two boys are old enough to play games with me.

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