Paper Beast: Folded Edition Review – PC (Steam)

Previously a VR exclusive, Paper Beast: Folded Edition is now accessible to everyone. If you’re a fan of the genre, this adventure/puzzle game is absolutely worth your time but isn’t without a few minor issues due to its initial VR only release.

Paper Beast: Folded Edition comes from Pixel Reef, a French studio headed by Éric Chahi of Another World (Out of This World in North America), and Heart of Darkness fame. The game puts players in the perspective of an unknown character as they venture through a unique desert landscape occupied by the titular Paper Beasts, and has you completing physics and simulation-based environmental puzzles to progress through its roughly 3 hours long, 7 chapter Adventure. There is no traditional plot to speak of, but some context clues, environmental storytelling and incredible otherworldly atmosphere were enough to keep me engaged the entire time, and that’s without mentioning the fantastically interesting creatures that inhabit the game.

Because this was initially a VR exclusive title, the gameplay itself is very simple. You use your WASD keys to move, and your mouse to look around and pick things up, with the Q and E keys letting you push and pull objects towards you. You then interact with objects or creatures in the environment to get access to the next part of the adventure, and that’s pretty much it, for the adventure mode at least. The control scheme is fine, but as someone that has used VR, I could definitely feel that this was meant to be played with VR style controls. There’s just a little awkwardness that comes with using a mouse and keyboard, although it passes pretty quickly. It’s not just the controls, there’s a real tangible sense that you’re missing a part of the experience by playing on a screen as opposed to a headset, which isn’t to say it’s not worth playing, just that it feels as if VR is where the game will really shine to it’s fullest potential.

The gameplay may be simple, but it’s everything else that’s built around those simple mechanics that made Paper Beast: Folded Edition a joy to play through. Its world is so alien and abstract that I felt a real want to keep playing to find the next creature or to see what cleverly designed puzzle came next. The game also doesn’t tell you how to progress, it lets you figure out what to do by experimenting with the environment. It’s all explained to you visually, which is a design feature that I love in general. There were a few moments in the adventure mode that made me pause the game and take a second just to comprehend what I had just seen, be it wonderful or, surprisingly to me, dread-inducing. Without spoiling anything, there were a couple of spots in the game that genuinely filled me with a form of fear I wasn’t expecting. Your mileage on this may vary, however, as I am personally freaked out by the unknown.

One thing that really blew me away was the audio. The game has a fantastic, mostly ambient soundtrack, but it swells during the important moments. It even features a few songs by a Japanese punk band named Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re, which I definitely didn’t expect, but they highlight some very memorable moments. It’s not just the music, the game’s sound design is outstanding, and I highly recommend playing with a set of headphones, if you can. The sounds of the wind, the noises of the creatures calling out or skittering around, everything is distinct and creates a soundscape unlike anything else I’ve played in recent memory. The game is obviously aware of how important the audio is, as it has you calibrate your setup before you do anything else, letting you select the type of output you’re using as well as the dynamic range.

Visually, the game is simplistic (again, I imagine due to its development for VR), but it’s not a bad simplicity. The art design is interesting, and everything feels like it belongs as a part of this world. Clouds are very painterly, sandstorms are made up of cut out paper numbers, and the flora and fauna (for the most part) look like they’re made using origami. It’s all deliberately styled and I found it very pleasant to look at.

The beasts of Paper Beast: Folded Edition are the stars of the show, with each of its creatures having unique behaviours, as well as reactions to other creatures and the player themselves. When the game started, I was presented with a creature that looked as if it was made of bone or a withered tree as opposed to paper but was utterly fascinated by it. This monolithic beast acts as somewhat of a guide throughout your adventure and leads you through the opening area. As it led me through the desert, we passed a pair of deer-like animals that were drinking in a small pool of water. Paper balls descended from the sky, and as I picked one up, one of the animals was drawn to it, took it from me, moved away and ate it. This type of unscripted behaviour happens throughout and really makes it feel like this world is a living ecosystem. It doesn’t just have these deer however, there’s a decent variety of wildlife, to the point there is an actual food chain. Working out the behaviours of the creatures in the game is part of the puzzle-solving, not just to create a simulated world, you actually use their AI to continue on your journey. It’s wonderful, although my one complaint is that there isn’t too much room for experimentation in the Adventure mode. You’re very rarely faced with more than 2/3 creatures in a puzzle situation, usually a predator and its prey. It would’ve been nice if there was a little more freedom to the puzzle’s solutions.

The world itself is also very dynamic. The wind and water affect the environment, blowing sand across the environment and creating pools where the ground has deformed. These features are a lot easier to notice in the game’s sandbox mode. In the sandbox, you are given a decently sized square of land to alter at your whim, creating rock formations, lakes and rivers, or just mountains of sand. You can then fill the sandbox with creatures, items and plant life from the games adventure mode, as well as use weather to dynamically alter your sandbox, changing it via erosion from rainfall or by shifting the sands with a sandstorm. You don’t start with all of these things unlocked, but instead, gain access to new features in the sandbox by getting collectables in the adventure mode. This helps with extending the longevity of the game, but only if you’re interested in the sandbox mode. There is a lot to experiment with, however, and it can be very relaxing to sit back and watch the ecosystem just play itself out, but it won’t be for everyone. I have a couple of issues with this mode, however. First off, it doesn’t tell you how to control the game in this mode, and I feel like that ties in with the second problem, in that this mode is another part of the game where you can see the VR component at its core. I can imagine sculpting everything was just more intuitive with motion controls and two hands to use, whereas with a mouse and keyboard it’s a little bit clunky. It’s definitely still functional, but maybe a little more could’ve been done in the transition from VR exclusivity.

Honestly, apart from the initial control issues, and the obvious feeling that this was made for VR, I adored this game. It’s one of my favourites of 2020 and I implore anyone who is a fan of adventure games and puzzle games to check it out. Its world is so wonderfully realised, from the creatures to the land itself. The sound design and soundtrack are incredible, and it builds an atmosphere that really kept me invested in the journey. To explain why I loved it so much would spoil a lot of the adventure mode, but it’s safe to say this game is unlike anything else I’ve ever played, and I love it for that.

Paper Beast: Folded Edition is available now on Steam and the Epic Games Store

Tom Woods is a Games Journalist for ICUGamer.com. Follow Tom via Twitter @T_Woods93

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