Paper Beast immediately establishes what kind of game it is with just one look at any screenshots, and within minutes of starting the game itself. It immediately calls to mind a variety of experimental PlayStation titles, like Journey and Flower, which let the visuals and game design communicate an experience, as opposed to writing and traditional storytelling. The game is both visually striking and beautiful, with atmosphere and mood being conveyed exceptionally well at any given time. There is a certain technical beauty to the game as well, the physics engine and particle effects are stunning. It definitely brings the technical superiority associated with more powerful engines such as a PC or PlayStation, and not a game you could easily get the full experience of on a lower spec computer.
Paper Beast, however, doesn’t hit the same mark as some of those more classic “artistic” games do. The intro is bizarre and is never really addressed or built upon. It almost seems like the game has two intros, the game startup, and the actual campaign.
The start of the campaign is also the actual introduction to what the game, Paper Beast, has in store for you. The ensuing campaign is a solid 10-hour experience at most, but that is the main draw of the game. Each level is a puzzle involving the manipulation of paper-like creatures and the surrounding environment. In addition, each level comes with one collectible stone to find, and finding them unlocks content for the game’s second mode, “Sandbox Mode.”
The first thing of note to mention is that the controls are not the greatest. Since this game is a VR port, the center pointer used to grab and move objects can feel very clunky. I feel almost all of my frustration with the game came from me knowing exactly what I needed to do and spending 5 minutes not being able to connect the two in-game objects I needed to. For me, controls fail when a player cannot do what should be easy and it’s not a point of the player’s skill. That being said, the issues are not game-breaking. Although, it is quite frustrating in certain puzzles.
The next thing to note, there is no writing, dialogue, or text really of any kind beyond the tutorial in the introduction of the campaign. Everything you need to do to complete a level’s puzzle is told to you visually or through intuitive game design, and this is where the game is at its absolute best. Not once did I get unreasonably stuck and I always had the necessary information to figure out the puzzle. The individual stories told by these little puzzles and endearingly designed creatures are pretty memorable. The music, graphics, and atmosphere in each of these levels have a unique emotional flavor. I cannot stress enough how wonderfully each puzzle is set up within the levels. The design of the game iterates and builds upon itself beautifully. Anyone interested in game design, or atmospheric experiences would love a playthrough of Paper Beast’s campaign.
Where Paper Beast flounders hard where others succeed, however, is its lack of cohesion and meaning. Games that don’t have a point, especially artistic games, lack a sense of purpose. The point of most games is to have fun, but artistic games especially feel like they need to be trying to convey something. The games that come to my mind as master-class when I think “artsy” games are PlayStation classics like Journey or Flower. You may not be able to say exactly what they were about after a playthrough, but you know they are about something and the whole experience left an impression on the player. Paper Beast feels like it has a grander meaning behind its world, but despite my best efforts, I really cannot figure out what it is really trying to say about anything. The various moments in the game exist for the sake of existing, and no explanation is given for anything.
The whole game ends up feeling at best like a bunch of unique mini-experiences and at worst a bunch of mini-stories that go nowhere and mean nothing. I’d say your view on what the purpose of a game is will wildly change your take on this game’s value. I am a game developer, who views games as art pieces, and I love artistic games very much like Paper Beast. Yet it did not resonate with me nearly as much as many other games that have even less storytelling than can be found here.
The second mode, Sandbox Mode, is basically a build-your-own Paper Beast level. The collectible stones in the campaign levels unlock various materials for the player to experiment with, and the modes couldn’t be more different from each other. Sandbox mode was able to hold my interest for 15 minutes at most and it only serves as bonus content for the game. It is a cool addition, and nice that the collectibles unlock something. It also gives completionists something to fill out, so the mode is not without merit.
Overall, Paper Beast is worth a look, maybe even an afternoon playthrough if this type of game is your particular cup of tea. Buyer beware that it only offers 15 hours of content plus a sandbox mode, but if you place value on artistic experiences and amazing level design, Paper Beast Refolded Edition may be worth adding to your Steam collection.
Score: 7 out of 10
Reviewed on PC