Falling comfortably into the category of “not quite a game, more of an experience”, Paper Beast is a surreal and strange virtual reality adventure that is a slow, captivating affair that has you interacting with… well… paper beasts, in a sort of otherworldly safari. While it came out on PSVR earlier in the year, it has now hit PC via Steam, Viveport and the Oculus Store, and as the Oculus Quest via Oculus Link is still my current headset of choice, I was more than happy to dive into this weird world for the first time.
VR titles are mostly still finding their place in the gaming sphere, and Pixel Reef have done a good job of bringing something new and interesting to the table, while still feeling like somewhat of an experiment. I guess you could class Paper Beast as a sort of puzzle game, with the mechanics geared around interacting with some odd creatures so that they can assist you through each of the seven levels that are presented. Landscapes and environments are intentionally minimalist, and teleporting around the area, interacting with the beasts and objects with a simple grab mechanic, is about as intense as it gets.
The beasts interact with you in different ways, and it’s up to you to figure out each mechanic as you progress. Some are attracted to light, while others will help you navigate the environment by creating a path for you. After the intro which, very cool, has you meeting a giant paper beast pal straight away who starts to show you the ropes, there are definitely some moments of confusion as you try to figure out what to do next. There isn’t any sort of time pressure or “game over” screen, though I did spend several moments during my playthrough stuck, confused at what to do next. Still, the joy of discovery and learning how this virtual ecosystem works is the main hook of Paper Beast, and its minimalist setting with gorgeous papercraft creatures and weather effects are sure to keep you engaged, even when you’re feeling a little lost.
Alongside the main story is a sandbox mode, which features a small area that you can shape using sand. Weather effects can be triggered to modify the space (evaporating water with a heatwave, for example) and you can also populate the area with a variety of beasts, to see how they interact with one another. It’s a fun way to experiment, and I spent a bit of time just trying to see which combination of creatures interacted with others, and how. It does feel rather limited in scope overall, though, and will likely serve as a distraction more than anything else; just something to do once you’re done with the provided levels.
Each part of Paper Beasts main missions feels like an artwork to be interpreted, with messaging under a veil of paper and whimsy. This makes for a fairly non-traditional gaming experience to say the least, and likely one that won’t resonate with everybody the same way. That’s likely the point, though, as the title will leave you with ponderous questions as you play along, engaging with odd creatures and trying to understand the world you’ve been dropped in. It’s unique, beautiful, compelling, but also a bit simple and at times too obtuse. At the very least, it’s worth picking up just to figure all that out for yourself.
Paper Beast is available now on Steam, Viveport and Oculus, with new animals, plants and a continuous movement system in this new PC version.