The thing that's so great about virtual reality is that it opens up all new possibilities for video games. By putting you right into the world, PlayStation VR can provide experiences that a flat TV screen simply can't. It makes a game more tangible and believable when you can literally reach out and grab something, or throw a real punch and have it land on the enemy right in front of you. It's perfect for something like Paper Beast, a game that's all about putting you in a surreal setting and co-existing alongside the titular creatures. Coming from the mind behind Another World, this is a similarly odd sci-fi excursion that puts the emphasis on its simulated ecosystem.
After a trippy intro sequence, you'll be thrown into an alien environment where paper flora and fauna abound, and it's largely up to you to figure out what to do and how to do it. The game's structure is linear, but each stage is a miniature sandbox, and you're more or less left to your own devices. It's not completely devoid of objectives, though -- to progress through the story, you'll have to solve environmental puzzles using what little is around you.
Playing with either a DualShock 4 controller or a pair of Move wands (both work fine, so it's down to preference), you're able to teleport around each area and pick up certain objects, plants, and animals. That's about the extent of what you can do, but Paper Beast is more about how the creatures react to each other and the world.
For instance, Papyvorus -- the animal you'll see the most through the game -- loves to eat scrunched up balls of paper. You can use them to lure the creatures, and they'll fight over the treats when they catch one. However, the multicoloured Predator will hunt Papyvorus, and you might need them to unlock the next part of the story, so you'll need to be careful about getting them through Predator territory. The game's puzzles aren't just about the wildlife -- they're often about the environment itself as well. Perhaps you need to move some water from one part of the map to another, or create a sandy bridge. These two elements will often go hand in hand, too, and you'll slowly be taught how each species fits into the ecosystem and how they can affect the landscape.
It's unusual, but really rather clever how it all works. Once you come to understand the interplay between the world and the beasts within it, it's quite satisfying to sit back and watch things play out. However, many of the puzzles may leave you scratching your head, so directionless is the gameplay. It's nice that you're left to work things out for yourself, but occasionally we found ourselves stumped. The game is largely about experimenting and manipulating things in fun ways, which is great, but sometimes you can be left floundering for a more straightforward answer.
Still, it's worth seeing the weird story through to its conclusion. The game provides a great sense of place; the setting is otherworldly but it feels like it's existed long before you got involved. In fact, most of the creatures couldn't care less that you're stood around gawping at the sandy scenery. Throughout the levels, there are some brilliant moments we don't want to spoil -- the ending in particular will certainly have you thinking.
Throughout the main game, you'll come across special colourful shapes that disappear when you collect them. These are worth hunting down, as they unlock extra creatures, plants, and effects to play around with in the Sandbox mode. In this part of Paper Beast, you're free to toy with everything to your heart's content. You can shape and mould the landscape, throw various species together, and observe how everything interacts. You're also able to zoom out into a god sim view, which gives us strong From Dust vibes. There are no rules or tasks to complete in this mode -- you're free to do as you please, seeing how the world reacts to weather effects, changes in terrain, and more. Unlocking everything for Sandbox might require playing through certain chapters again, adding some legs to the six-hour story. However, as impressive as the simulated ecosystem is, we're not sure it will hold the attention of too many players for long.
Paper Beast is an unusual but well realised world in PSVR. The interplay between you, the environments, and all the plants and animals is fun to discover, and it really does offer up some great moments throughout the story. Some of the puzzles are a little too obtuse, but overall the freedom you're given to experiment leads to a greatly unique experience. The Sandbox mode adds some longevity, and allows you to really tinker with all the game's elements. We're not sure we'd call this an absolute must-have, but it's utterly unique and captivating in a way only VR games can be.