Paper Beast Review: Virtual Reality, as beautiful as it gets
One of the most extraordinary and beautiful VR games is now available for Playstation VR 2 as an Enhanced Edition. I've played it.
Editor's note: I published this review based on the PC VR version of the game on our German website in August 2020. Now I've translated it into English and added my impressions of the Enhanced Edition.
Paper Beast: Review in a nutshell
Paper Beast takes you to a surreal dream world, offering a nature simulation with unique physics puzzles. It is made for people who want to be enchanted.___STEADY_PAYWALL___
Tested with: Oculus Rift S, Playstation VR 2
Paper Beast will appeal to you if you...
- want to experience something new,
- love surreal game worlds and
- find physics and life simulations exciting.
Paper Beast will not appeal to you if you...
- are looking for deep game mechanics,
- want to be entertained for many hours, or
- don't like artsy games.
A strange place
Many VR developers want to represent the world we know as realistically as possible. But why? Virtual reality can do much more. French developer Éric Chahi proves this with Paper Beast.
Admittedly, I'm not familiar with Chahi's previous works such as Another World, Heart of Darkness and From Dust. But I do know that he is to video games what auteur filmmakers are to cinema: he creates idiosyncratic works of art with a strong signature. And those are rare: In the past thirty years, Chahi has made only four major games.
With Paper Beast, Chahi plunges us into a world different from our own, awakening the primal magic of virtual reality that comes from the fascination of being somewhere else. The VR headset is suddenly no longer a technical device, but a magical pair of goggles that allows us to peer into another dimension. Being present in the moment and being amazed: Paper Beast takes you back to the primordial state of human existence.
The play of elements
It would take a poet to put this world into words. It consists of deserts, colorful clouds, blue crystalline rocks, and creatures that resemble origami figures. There is no where from, where to, and why, nor is there an explicit game objective or text.
Paper Beast speaks only through its world. Most of the time you accompany paper creatures through the wasteland, deciphering their intentions, helping them where necessary. In return, they open up new paths for you.
Visually, Paper Beast is reminiscent of Dalí paintings, with the difference that here you have a living ecosystem in front of you that acts and reacts and follows its own laws, which you first have to familiarize yourself with.
At the heart of the game is an impressive physics simulation that I haven't seen in any other game. Water reacts realistically to its environment, freezing and melting under the influence of cold and heat. Earth can be piled up and reacts to external forces as you would expect. If you roll a ball of clay down a mound of earth, it gets bigger.
If I had to find an appropriate term for Paper Beast's fascination, it would be nature porn: I found myself watching and enjoying the play of elements and physics for minutes on end.
In addition to the main game, there is also a Sandbox mode. Here you can play God by terraforming landscapes, creating lakes and rivers, placing creatures, trees, and plants in them, and watching the ecosystem return to balance.
The physics simulation is wonderful to look at and forms the basis of the game mechanics. In this sense, Paper Beast is a physics puzzle game. Sometimes you have to help creatures over physical obstacles, sometimes you have to use the elements to clear paths.
Paper Beast has its best moments in the first two hours, when it feels more like a nature and life simulation than a game.
Later on, the puzzle elements and gameplay becomes more predictable, making the framework of the game mechanics more prominent. Paper Beast then feels more conventional and tangible, which is accompanied by a partial demystification of its world.
The game doesn't take full advantage of virtual reality's strengths: it doesn't require any physical activity, and the hand interactions are relatively simple. Still, the VR headset greatly enhances the feeling of being in another world. And that is what Paper Beast is all about.
You can teleport or use smooth locomotion. Snap turning is supported, but artificial blinders are not.
Enhanced Edition: How Paper Beast plays on PSVR 2
Paper Beast was released in March 2020 for Playstation VR and a few months later for PC VR headsets. For this review, I played the VR game on the Oculus Rift S. It looks stunningly beautiful on the highest graphics settings and with supersampling enabled.
On September 27th, 2023, Paper Beast: Enhanced Edition was released for Playstation VR 2 and PS5, making it playable without a VR headset for the first time.
Compared to the PSVR 1 version, the Enhanced Edition brings a higher render resolution, volumetric lighting effects, higher resolution textures and shadows, more realistic sand and water simulation, and an enhanced sandbox mode. More details on the improvements are described on the Playstation Blog.
I played the Enhanced Edition and couldn't see any significant graphical differences from the PC VR version I reviewed in 2020. I was a bit disappointed with the render resolution: the game doesn't seem to use foveated rendering, so distracting aliasing effects sometimes appear on more distant landscapes, objects, and creatures. This isn't a deal-breaker, Paper Beast still looks good on PSVR 2, but not as stunning as I hoped. If you have a gaming PC and a PC-VR compatible headset, and you value flawless graphics, I'd recommend the PC-VR version.
There is nothing to criticize about the gameplay of the Enhanced Edition. Paper Beast offers an absolutely smooth gaming experience on PSVR 2 and flawless interaction and navigation with the Sense controllers. I have not tried the non-VR version.
Verdict: A unique VR experience
Paper Beast is a love letter to life and living things. It portrays nature, the raw struggle for survival, and the fragility of existence. Thanks to virtual reality, you're right in the middle of it, experiencing your relationship to the world in a new way.
And don't worry: Paper Beast is much more than an (existential) experience. It has game mechanics and puzzles that it thrives on, but they are abstract and unobtrusive because they spring naturally from the physics simulation and elements of that world. Solutions rarely seem contrived or far-fetched.
Paper Beast is a blast, visually and aurally. Virtual reality is the most sensual of all media and just the right vessel for a game like Paper Beast.
The adventure lasts a couple of hours. After that, you're left with the sandbox mode, where you can experiment with the game's amazing physics to your heart's content.
Paper Beast's qualities can't be measured in playing time, though; the VR game's greatest strength lies in its uniqueness. If you're looking for something out of the ordinary in VR, you'll be richly rewarded.
You can buy Paper Beast here:
- Playstation Store for Playstation VR 2 (Paper Beast: Enhanced Edition), price: $25. Players who have already purchased the game for Playstation VR can upgrade to the PSVR 2 version for $5.
- Steam for PC VR headsets (Paper Beast), price: $20.