Exploring an “unusual living world spun from the internet’s lost digital data” sounds like a bad idea.
Who’d want to stumble across dinosaur made from dick pics or an orangutan clothed in off-colour memes? Fortunately, Paper Beast goes beyond its faintly disturbing premise to deliver an enchanting trip into a wonderful but mercifully non-hostile world. It’s never clear why you’re surrounded by paper animals, but this PlayStation VR title sees you traversing this strange land an in effort to return home.
Along the way you’ll aid (and sometimes annoy) these creatures, solve puzzles, gawp at the gorgeous scenery and be very, very glad that you’ve got another reason not to sell your PSVR headset.
And, believe me, you’ll be doing a lot of gawping. Paper Beast‘s claim of “a rich, living world” is a stretch; as beautifully animated as the creatures are, their behaviours are very limited. But it’s still loaded with moments that will take your breath away; watching deer sing to a tree to make it grow, taking to the skies in a hot air balloon, even something as simple as discovering that the sand isn’t just static, it’s actually being washed away by the water. These little touches help make Paper Beast a treat for the eyes. Even with the PSVR’s lower resolution, you’ll be thoroughly impressed.
But there’s more to do than just watch and listen to the understated, ambient soundtrack. Paper Beast sports an unlockable sandbox mode, but the origami lion’s share of the game has you tackling environmental puzzles. It isn’t an open world game; instead, you’re presented with a series of linked landscapes, with just enough room to mess about to your heart’s content.
You can rest your backside on your sofa, using a PlayStation 4 controller to manipulate objects and teleport around the level, should you so desire. But Paper Beast is at is best when you’re standing in the middle of your room, flailing around with a pair of PlayStation Move controllers as you yank on a giant luminescent orb. Does that ice crystal have an important purpose? Maybe. Are you going to spend the next ten minutes using it to freeze every puddle in the level? Definitely.
More often than not, the creatures are instrumental in solving Paper Beast’s conundrums. You need to get the deer up that glass slope, but those origami imbeciles just keep sliding back down it, with no sense of pattern recognition. But hang on a minute… those turtles deposit sand wherever they go, but they’re too heavy to lift. So how do you get them over to the slope? Time to think outside the cardboard box. Each diverse environment comes with its own problems; the animals are so eye-catching that it’s easy to forget they’re made of paper, until you wander into an area where the wind blows non-stop.
This animal-led approach does lead to some tonal inconsistencies. Paper Beast, for the most part, expects to you revere the animals, to smile in wonderment as a beetle skitters by, or feel humbled as a creature that resembles a giant spiny stag looks you in the eye. Yet there are times when you’re forced to treat them as mere tools; there’s a puzzle you solve by grabbing an animal’s young and hurling it down a slope. Yes, you read that right – you make progress by stealing a baby, throwing it away and watching as its terrified parents charge after it. I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or turn myself into the RSPCA.
You can’t pet the animals, but the fun that comes from messing about in Paper Beast’s sandbox mode more than makes up for it. The one pitfall of adventure mode is that if the solution you try isn’t the one Paper Beast has in mind, you’ll hit an invisible wall. You’ve learnt to pile sand up against a slope but, when you try it on the next level, you’re met with a big angry “No Entry” sign. In sandbox mode, there are no such barriers, and experimentation is an absolute delight.
Just manipulating the landscape is a blast, as you turn sand into water, grow trees or hurl a sphere into the air and see it transform into a storm. The amount of land you have to play with is disappointingly small, but sandbox mode isn’t meant to create a persistent, living world; it’s just an opportunity for you to mess about and see the animals at play.
If you’re feeling particularly sadistic you can throw in a predator and watch it hunt down your creations. Despite their lack of anything resembling a face though, the paper beasts are so emotive that you’ll be stricken with guilt if you do. And anyway, without a proper photo mode (come on, Pixel Reef, you know what we want) you can’t go full David Attenborough and capture the moment of the hunt.
Paper Beast isn’t perfect; like a dream, the game just ends without warning. But the trip is such a joyous, meditative experience it’s worth this parting burst of confusion. If you’ve got a PSVR, Paper Beast should be high on your to-play list.