It takes a special sort of talent when making videogames to be able to create surprise and wonderment at every step. When Pixel Reef first revealed the bizarre world of Paper Beast almost a year ago, it instantly drew attention thanks to the aesthetics and story blend of technology and ecology. Since then Paper Beast continued to fascinate, VRFocus gaining a brief taster during Gamescom 2019 which raised more questions. But that was only the stepping stone of what was to come in this puzzling little title.
Paper Beast gives you no clue as to what the hell is going on so anything you read about the videogame will be a spoiler of some sort. At no point does it let up on the playful weirdness, gently prodding you in the right direction without a word being spoken or written piece of information – that’s only partially true, bring the controller/PlayStation Move near to your face will show button info which is handy in this uninformative world.
Which is itself slightly odd as this is a landscape born of data, massive amounts of data in fact. Look closely at the clouds and you’ll see they’re made of giant numbers and letters eluding to the world in which you’ve entered. This is a place which is ever-changing, a landscape altered by the inhabitants who have appeared from random code and appear both equally familiar and abstract. These beasts guide and help you as well as need your help, with some not always the most friendly.
The title doesn’t lie these are very much paper beasts – or possibly even origami beasts – which behave as you would expect a horse or dog, with a few odd exceptions. Most of them can be picked up or interacted with in some way, usually by a joint or head. The friendly ones at least, which tend to be made of white paper. The far more colourful creatures tend to be predators, which will hunt and kill the others when given a chance.
For a videogame with no dialogue or written story Paper Beast does a magnificent job of creating emotion through creature behaviour and their roles within the narrative. At one point you’ll come across what can only be described as a paper sheepdog, a big shaggy thing which can erode sand as it walks. Handy for some puzzles, having this paper pooch as a companion does help to make the whole experience friendlier and sad when you part ways.
So onto the puzzles which form the core part of the gameplay. They all revolve around the beasts, the ecosystem and their environmental synergy. For example, there’s a tortoise-like creature which drops sand when it walks over water, useful for creating dams to control the flow. Or the strange little dung beetle-like insects rolling balls of sand which can be picked and dropped where needed. Just like Mother Nature herself, everything in the world of Paper Beast has its place.
It can be easy to get distracted by the majesty of it all, which some breathtaking views of the scenery – especially when up in the balloon. It’s a world that feels both alive and desolate, with miles upon miles of digital desert spreading into the distance. You can’t explore most of it, Paper Beast does keep areas fairly well contained and linear to aid the textless storyline. Yet exploration is still key, as hidden on several levels are some glowing blobs which unlock new items within the creative sandbox mode.
This is where a lot of players will find longevity in Paper Beast once the main campaign has ended. Here you have access to everything you’ve seen on your travels, all the creatures and plants to create your own little world. You’re given full terraforming capabilities to build sand mountains or flat plains, add a pool of water or make a flowing river. All the controls are straight forward no matter which scheme you use but the PlayStation Move did feel more intuitive and god-like which is always a bonus.
Paper Beast is the brain-child of Eric Chahi who is known for Another World and From Dust. These have gained him a reputation for a unique blend of videogame creation, continuing into the VR realm with this latest project. This has ensured Paper Beast offers PlayStation VR an exclusive experience like no other, a beautiful statement on the natural world and the influence technology can have on it.