24/10/2020

๐Ÿงฆ Paper Beast: Folded Edition | Review | "Enter Paper Beast, which strolled into my life and promptly sent my socks flying off" ๐Ÿงฆ @PixelHunted #GameDev #IndieGames

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Perhaps I’ve been spoiled but it takes a lot for a game to impress me. 
Gigantic, opulent open-world map? Chuck it on the pile with the rest. 
A hundred-hour epic adventure? I’ve got a life dammit. 
Incredibly complex vehicular simulation? Ah, I’ll just play more Mario Kart.
Enter Paper Beast, which strolled into my life and promptly sent my socks flying off. 
Created by Another World, Heart of Darkness and From Dust’s ร‰ric Chahi, this game probably shouldn’t work - the core idea the kind of thing most developers would abandon at the conceptual stage when the amount of work required to realise it became apparent.

Boiled down to its basic building blocks this is a first-person puzzler: the boards are a series of self-contained ecosystems and the pieces are surreal animals and objects. 
You have simple tasks like accessing a part of the map, bringing creatures to a certain place or getting an object from a to b, and you accomplish them by manipulating the animals and environments.

For example, there’s a long rope-like worm lookin’ thing that gulps up mud and poops it out the other end - making it a perfect tool to begin moving some dirt. 

The game is admirably free of tutorials and signposting, relying on the player to carefully observe what’s going on in order to figure out the goal and how your squishy biological tools are going to help you achieve it.

But describing Paper Beast this way is like calling the Mona Lisa particles of pigment on canvas, or Statue of Liberty sheets of copper on an iron frame. 

There’s a genuine sense of wonder in this bizarre and stylish world where the clouds are made of fluffy numbers and prehistoric origami giants track meandering trails through the sands. 

However, looking good just isn’t enough and it’s not unusual for games to have artistic pretensions. The difference here is that Chahi forces you to roll up your sleeves and get elbow deep into the mud - an investment that pays off swimmingly.

The technical wizardry of these ecosystems is astonishing: each animal procedurally animated with individually-tailored AI systems. 
At various points you find yourself stopping to observe what seems to be a nature documentary from another dimension, predators circling their prey, parents protecting their young or parched creatures hunting down water in the desert (the dream of Jurassic Park: Trespasser finally came true!).

I’m no game design expert, though I like to think I know how the sausage is made and picturing the endless tweaking required to get these autonomous creatures to not just function but be satisfying to manipulate gives me a headache. And with a 16 person development team? Yeesh.

By the time the credits roll you’ll have been dazzled, with a 3-4 hour complete playthrough providing more memorable moments than most games manage in 50 hours of mindless, samey questing.

There is a rub here. I’m reviewing the ‘Folded Version’, which adapts the original VR release for a controller or keyboard and mouse. The conversion works, though has the occasional awkward movement as interaction and camera control are both on the right stick. Thing is, knowing that this was designed primarily for VR made me feel like I wasn’t getting the full impact.

After all, if it’s breathtaking to soar across an extraterrestrial desert on a monitor TV, it’d be ten times as amazing in VR. That nagging feeling persisted throughout Paper Beast, to the point where I eventually just bought it on PSVR and will play it again on that soon.
If you don’t own a VR headset, find VR nauseating or prefer to game in 2D then I’d unequivocally recommend Paper Beast: Folded Edition. 

It’s beautiful, ambitious, fun and rewarding. 

If you do have a VR headset (or plan to own one soon) then playing it on that is a no-brainer - this game deserves the most immersive experience possible.
❄️ RATING: 9 ❄️

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