Since its initial release earlier in 2020, gamers without access to a VR headset have been begging to be whisked away by the gentle horror offered by the indie gem that is Paper Beast. Paper Beast: Folded Edition grants these wishes, with smoother gameplay and an expanded ecosystem. With a world full of potential, but as paper-thin as the creatures that roam, it’s hard not to feel a bittersweet sense of disenchantment with this non-VR release.
As I sat down to play, I made a promise to myself. I said I would judge Paper Beast: Folded Edition by its own merits, rather than simply compare it to its acclaimed VR version – I had hoped it could stand on its own two feet. But, unfortunately, Paper Beast was created for VR, and it shows.
A familiar psychedelic swirl of digital nightmares awaits in Paper Beast: Folded Edition’s strange environment, populated by majestic and intelligent creatures. It’s very similar to the VR game. Identical. In fact, the entire game is virtually indistinguishable the first release, just with updated controls to suit the platform.
In some ways, this sense of familiarity is welcoming. Fans of the VR version of Paper Beast are wrapped up in nostalgic wonder of the world created by renowned game designer Eric Chahi (Another World). But it also means the tonal inconsistencies of the VR version are also present, which makes it hard to differentiate the two releases.
Of particular note is the dissonance between the animals that inhabit the world and the sense of wonder players are encouraged to feel. After playing through the game, I’m still uncertain whether I should revere the critters that surround me, or feel no remorse as I fling them through the air for no particular reason.
Many solutions to Paper Beast: Folded Edition’s puzzles involve the player using these majestic paper beasts to their advantage. In Chapter 3 I had to steal the severed limb of a creature to carve out rivers in the ground as it ran pathetically after me. In another, I had to steal an animal’s young and throw it off a cliff as its parents watched helplessly. On one hand, it was very fun to see the creatures behaviour adapt to my actions. On the other hand, it detracts massively from the awe these massive paper beasts invoke. I’m definitely on the RSPCA blacklist for my crimes.
The puzzles that block your exploration often feel like a hindrance, rather than something to solve. Paper Beast: Folded Edition is best when I can simply roam the land and hang out with my terrifying giant spiny stag friend. The game will teach you one use for animals, then put an invisible rad block in front of you if you try and solve a puzzle using this technique. It leaves the exploration game feeling sadly linear, with seemingly unrelated puzzles that rarely feel fleshed out.
In the VR version of Paper Beast, players don’t walk around the map, but rather use point-and-click to decide on their path. In Paper Beast: Folded Edition, you can walk around the map using a controller or keyboard. Whilst I enjoyed the dream-like, detached experience of warping in the VR version, I will say the traditional movement of Paper Beast: Folded Edition opened the world like never before.
However, the controls, once so intuitive and effortlessly simple, now feel clunky and frustrating. On multiple occasions, I found myself wanting to click on something but moving the camera instead. I often found myself having to step back and realign myself with the game to continue solving the puzzle. I don’t mean in a fun reassessment. I mean literally, stop what I was doing, recenter my mouse and continue where I left off. The claustrophobic camera made me feel nauseous and I had to step away from the PC for a while with a feeling akin to motion sickness, which was odd for a PC game. This was somewhat solved by hooking up a controller, but it’s a point worth mentioning for those who don’t have access.
One of the most striking things about Paper Beast is its art style and, whilst I promised myself I wouldn’t compare Paper Beast: Folded Edition to its predecessor, I came away feeling sadly underwhelmed. Paper Beast stretches the limitations of VR to create “a rich, living world”, filled with truly breathtaking moments that made my heart skip. Soaring through the skies in a hot air balloon and wading through the glittering water in VR feels otherworldly. Unfortunately, the graphics just don’t translate well when playing on PC. The terrifying monsters that loom over you in VR feel cramped on a screen, with no sense of scale.
Still, the bizarre world manages to drag me in, as always. The delight I felt when digging up a glowing root creature for the first time burst from my chest and painted a smile on my face as I explored the dingy caverns. The paralyzing dread and confusion I felt as a glitchy piece of obsidian slowly and maliciously tears open the sky, causing letters and numbers to swarm around me drew me into the game almost as well as the VR version would. But these moments were few and far between – my overwhelming thought for most of the game was ‘wow, that would be really cool in VR’.
I could write a whole article about the sound design of Paper Beast: Folded Edition. One day, I might. For a game so steadfast in its silent narrative, the music and sound effects are almost violent in their soul and vibrancy. It is, without question, my favourite part of the experience.
With its gorgeous layers and vivid soundscape, Paper Beast: Folded Edition is brought to life by the whistling wind, the chirping of paper beasts and the trickling of sand. Affirming synth tones soar as you conquer hills of sand, pulsing around your headset as critters play and interact around you. I found myself sitting back in my chair, just listening in awe to the music swelling around me. As the narrative descends into digital chaos, the unnerving glitching sound effects echo in perfect stereo, making me jump on several occasions. Combine all this, with an original soundtrack combining the Japanese punk rock of TsuShiMaMire and the ambient style of Roly Porter, and you are in for a treat.
The VR release of Paper Beast was met with criticism of its seemingly ‘unfinished’ narrative. True to itself, the PC release is no different.
Paper Beast’s world is set in the vast memory of a data server. This colourful exploration game takes you on a virtual journey of discovery, past decades of lost code and forgotten algorithms, to explore this emerging ecosystem and the paper beasts that thrive there.
Some might say that Paper Beast feels like an impressive tech demo that never really made the jump into a full game. I can certainly understand that viewpoint. VR is experimental tech, and Paper Beast is such a detailed and exquisite foray into what the platform can offer, it’d be fair to say that the narrative fell by the wayside. Unfortunately, the PC version just can’t get away with this excuse.
Whilst some might say it’s true that the narrative is paper-thin, it’s also true that the emotions it brings about are not. I feel like that’s the point being made. We don’t need to fully understand everything to enjoy it, we simply need to feel something. That’s what makes Paper Beast such a poetic experience.
As I wandered through this digital world, making friends with Lovecraftian crystalline stags and shaggy dog-like creatures made from shredded scraps on my journey, Paper Beast: Folded Edition made me feel something. As the credits rolled, I was still uncertain about what I had actually played. But it didn’t really matter.
Paper Beast: Folded Edition, like its VR counterpart, shines in its wild and simulated ecosystem. Sandbox mode brings together the joyous exploration parts of the game, without bringing the muddling puzzles along with it. I spent an hour or so marvelling at cascading waterfalls and unleashing predators on unsuspecting paper creatures. The disconcerting growls of origami wolves, blended with the distinct crumple of paper made me feel awful, but this immersive playground highlights the world building that Paper Beast excels in.
Paper Beast: Folded Edition is a very poetic experience, which some players may find difficult to come to terms with. The game strands players with no clear objectives or solution to puzzles – it has no spoken audio and players are often left to their own devices, which some players may find off-putting or anxiety-inducing. There’s also no way to adjust the difficulty of the game, so it might not be suitable for everyone.
However, it’s worth considering that this PC release opens the game to people from lower income families who don’t own a VR headset and people with mobility issues who may not be able to partake in the strenuous activity VR often demands. Everyone deserves to play this gorgeous exploration game if they want to and Paper Beast: Folded Edition is a more accessible version of its predecessor.
Is it worth your money?
In conclusion, Paper Beast: Folded Edition is an affordable, enjoyable way of experiencing the beauty of this poetic indie gem. But Paper Beast was created for VR, and it shows. The adapted keyboard controls often induce motion sickness and the technological marvel of the VR world pixel Reef created falls flat on a screen.
But one thing that is particularly distinctive about Paper Beast, and indeed the Folded Edition, is the love that radiates from every pixel. The sheer sense of expression and care can be felt through every step of the beasts. Whilst the lack of overt storytelling may put some players off, one thing is for certain. It’s an exhilarating experience, unlike anything I’ve ever played before.
Paper Beast: Folded Edition was reviewed on PC. Pick it up on Steam here!
Featured Image Credit: Pixel Reef/Plug In Digital