Paper Beast review: a transformative VR odyssey

April 6, 2020
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Years ago he made a game called Another World, but even now Eric Chahi’s stuff always comes from another place. He’s thinking about the same things other game designers think about – physics, cinema, AI, and VR in the case of his latest – but I guess he’s thinking about it all in a fundamentally different way. He loves nature, but he also loves change, the juddering forces that disrupt and transform. He loves myths, but he also loves volcanoes, tidal waves, the engines of ancient memory. His gods can do astonishing things, but they ultimately have to work within the taut confines of elemental rules just like the rest of us: fire burns, water sweeps away, earth and air can be both finely grained and terrifyingly powerful.

I am wary of the idea of the auteur, and Chahi always works with a decent-sized team, but there’s no questioning that distinctive themes run through all of his games. They feel personal, these games, like someone returning to a favourite thought – and they often move the thinking on a bit. Back with Another World he created a hero who’s sucked through a computer screen into an alien landscape. With From Dust, he charged you with progressing across a series of inchoate environments by manipulating earth, water, air and fire. Paper Beast feels like a convergence, and a reduction. There’s less of everything – there often is with VR – but the flavours you’re used to are also richer.

Put on the PSVR and enter Chahi’s version of cyberspace – a place you are thrust into when a simulation you’ve been running goes a bit awry. This place! It’s prickly and lavish and extremely colourful. There are Dali deserts and Sega skies. There are crags and mountains and dunes. And jeepers! The world is alive, noble Jurassic beasts with bones made of paper and gems, origami almost-tigers and almost-horses, other things that are just ragged mops of newsprint, or maybe they’re neurons shuddering around in a mass of dendrites. These animals! Their folded-paper planes beautifully invoke the jagged polygonal creations of the early days of Chahi’s career.

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