Review: Paper Beast

24 Mar 2020

When a member of our team had a chance to check out Pixel Reef’s upcoming Paper Beast on the PSVR at PAX East, they came away quite impressed.

However, seeing is believing, so I was excited to throw on my PSVR headset to experience the unique world for myself.

Now that I’ve been able to have some time with Éric Chahi’s latest, I myself have also grown quite fond of the unique world of Paper Beast, available now for PlayStation VR from publisher Pixel Reef.

Hello, World

After an incredibly odd music sequence where you can play around with the controls, the game drops you into this bizarre landscape where you’re immediately met with a towering paper beast. I was immediately awestruck with the scale and immersion of the world. As I followed my new friend, I encountered different types of beasts until I ultimately ended up in a small clearing. The ground began to sink, opening up a hole and creating what I can only describe as a “paper tornado” as it proceeded to lift things up into the sky. Luckily, I was able to escape before my large friend sealed me into a cave, seemingly to protect me from the storm.

As the next chapter began, I was greeted by a different beast, which had the ability to wear down the sand, making me able to venture forth deeper into the cave. As I progressed through this first of the game’s seven chapters, I was slowly introduced to different objects that I could interact with. A light that attracted a particular type of beast, a heated orb that I could use to melt ice, even the beasts themselves can be targeted and used to help you clear paths in the environment.

Using the PlayStation Move controllers felt very natural and allowed me to grab onto objects or beasts, pull them towards me, push them away, and to move around the environments using a teleport mechanic. I’m not usually a fan of teleportation in VR titles, but here it worked well and didn’t bother me.

The game introduces you to various concepts to give you an idea of how to move onto the next area. The direction that the game gives felt direct enough that I understood what to do, but it didn’t hold my hand; I had to figure things out. There’s not really any text in the game, there’s no ominous voice speaking in your ear and telling you where to go, which really helps immerse you in this strange world.

The ultimate goal of the mission is often the same, though the tools at your disposal can differ greatly. Missions entail guiding a certain number of beasts to an end-point, represented by a tree. As you guide each beast to the tree, it blossoms. You may have to herd a group of animals, or use them in order to collect sand in order to make a ramp so that traveling out of the area becomes possible. Eventually, after getting enough beasts to gather around the tree, it will create a hot-air balloon type of rig which you then board as you travel to your next destination. The feeling of lifting off in this and being able to look down at the area you were just walking around in is incredible.

Of course, even if the game drops a subtle hint about what to do, figuring out how to achieve that can take some trial and error. I found myself restarting missions a couple of times because I feel like I had messed up, but the game doesn’t have any kind of game over screen. It’s up to you to figure things out.

Meet Me at the Playground

The missions in the game have a hidden glowing object. If you happen to find one and touch it, it will unlock something in the game’s sandbox mode. In the sandbox, you’re given a small landscape that you’re able to shape using sand. You have the ability to trigger weather effects and have things freeze over, make it ran and erode the ground, or make a heat wave and evaporate any water that’s present. You can also populate the area with the beasts of your choice and watch how they interact with the environment and each other.

I loved the idea of making my own tiny eco-system in the sandbox mode. I inserted a few objects in the world that some species of beasts could use to reproduce and a few each of said species and just watched things happen. It was interesting to see how they interacted and increased their numbers. The most disappointing part of the sandbox to me was the small amount of memory available. Your information readout gives you a bar that fills up with every new beast, object, or otherwise memory-using material added to the environment. There’s certainly enough allotment to have an enjoyable experience, but this limitation often felt too restrictive on the amount of things I could play around with.

The sandbox is certainly a fun mode to play around with, though after spending a couple of hours in it, I can’t find a reason to jump back into it. It seems like a fun thing to play around with- nothing more.

A Wonderfully Surreal Experience

The deeper I journeyed into Paper Beast, the more intrigued I became by the increasingly surreal set pieces. For example, one level began with static noises blasting through my headphones as letters fell from a rip in the sky, splashing down and coating the area in a tar like substance. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, and I loved it. Each mission made me think more and more about what kind of story or message Éric Chahi is trying to convey and, much like my viewings of Twin Peaks, I found myself full of questions and lacking what felt like some cosmic understanding, like I had missed a very important memo. After about seven hours, I was able to complete Paper Beast, and the ending only raised more questions.

Unlockables for sandbox mode as well as the trophy list will offer you some reasons to go back through and replay missions. However, the sandbox mode, while a fun distraction, isn’t something that I see myself going back to after my initial time with it.

My time with Paper Beast left me in awe. While I cannot claim to fully understand what it is that I experienced while playing this game, I’m glad that I did experience it. I would encourage others to experience it as well.

~ Final Score: 8/10 ~

Review copy provided by Pixel Reef for PS4/PSVR. Screenshots courtesy of the publisher.