Paper Beast is one of 2020’s highlights for the Playstation VR headset. Developed by Pixel Reef and helmed by Another World creator Éric Chahi, it’s a highly original experience that PSVR owners will want to take notice of.
Of course, the involvement of Éric Chahi was reason enough for us to keep a close eye on this one. I personally remember playing Future Wars and Another World when they launched about thirty years ago, and Another World in particular is both a classic that I still enjoy replaying and a landmark achievement in narrative action platforming. Chahi hasn’t been too prolific since that era, since 1998’s Heart of Darkness and 2011’s From Dust had been his only games post-Another World.
And although it’s hard to be truly groundbreaking in this day and age, Paper Beast certainly looked original and it’s been a bit of wait for its release. A tad strange as well, it’s a game that mixes puzzles with exploration and a unique world with animals that look like they were crafted from paper – origami-style. It all adds to the mystery of Pixel Reef’s latest, which come alive thanks to its use of VR hardware.
Speaking of which, Paper Beast has the same launch date as Half-Life: Alyx (which we’re also working on), but caters to the PSVR crowd that isn’t getting Valve’s latest at this time. It is, however, exclusive to Sony’s platform and as such supports the Move controllers and the DualShock gamepad. Movement is limited though, since click-turning and teleportation are available but smooth location is not. The Move controllers are still your best option because they allow you to interact with the world around you, which works very well because of the role that physics plays in this world.
As you progress through the campaign (which is about four hours long despite a relatively slow pace), you interact with a variety of paper-crafted animals and plants that all have unique attributes and behaviors that serve their purpose inside a particular environment or puzzle. The game consists of eight levels, each one subdivided into smaller little hubs in which you complete challenges before you can progress. There’s a storyline behind it all, but it’s mostly implicit and devoid of much of a narrative. At times, it felt a bit as if I was playing a game like Q.U.B.E. 2 but without the voiceovers that provide the context of a storyline – a seemingly endless series of creatively designed puzzles.
Turning to the game’s visuals, Paper Beast is a game where the screenshots don’t really do it justice. Yes, upon first glace the game’s world can look a little barren and empty. I’m sure part of that is due to technical reasons (to ensure smooth performance and good viewing distances), but a large portion is also that it makes your interactions with the world and its strange inhabitants all the more impactful. Lighting effects are breathtaking, as are the physics involved in many of the puzzles where you alter the landscape around you. There are little details as well, like the ways in which creatures interact with plants or leave marks on the terrain. The same approach, where effects are a sharp contrast to a barren world, was also taken with the audio design, which uses samples and musical interludes to great effect.
In addition to the enchanting campaign, there is also a sandbox creation mode where you can use the various elements you encounter and arrange them in your own way. While it’s nice to be offered a toolbox like this, I’m not sure it will contribute to Paper Beast’s long term appeal in the way that a community like the one surrounding Dreams does (which should also get VR support). However, as a single player puzzle adventure in VR, few offer a journey that’s as magical as Paper Beast’s. It may be short and its movement options are limited, but this is one I can only recommend.