The PlayStation VR plays host to a breakthrough new title that excels in terms of technology and sheer charm.
It happens less often than we’d like, and sometimes it’s not necessarily a positive, but sometimes when you play a new game you realise that you’re getting a glimpse of the future. By its nature that tends to happen with virtual reality games more than most, but with Moss the only thing more engrossing than the experience itself is the thought of what it augers for the future of all video games.
You may be looking at the cute screenshots and wandering what could possibly justify such hyperbole, but we really don’t feel we’re exaggerating. Moss is one of the most immersive video games we’ve ever played, and yet it doesn’t use a first person viewpoint at all for its main gameplay. Instead it’s a third person platform puzzler where you loom over the game world as if it were a little toy diorama, interacting with it as both a mute overseer and a cute little mouse named Quill.
The idea of playing a normal third person game in VR is not a new one, and one of the first times we experienced it was with the original version of Super Lucky’s Tale. The difference with Moss though is that it’s actually a good game, and one whose world you never want to leave…
One of the stranger things about Moss though is that it’s presented as a children’s story book – one aimed at relatively older kids, but nevertheless concerned with plucky mice warriors that ride squirrels into battle and talk to fairies. The main story elements are narrated in first person as you flip through the pages of a book at a library, but unfortunately the plot is completely uninteresting and the American narrator slightly grating.
We’re also not entirely sure who the game is really aimed at, considering the PlayStation VR isn’t supposed to be used by anyone under the age of 12. But we can tell you that, outside of the framing narrative, it left us absolutely enchanted.
The way the game works is that you view the world as a masked creature, who looks uncannily like No-Face from Spirited Away, and whose nature is not initially explained. Quill is controlled with a joypad in the normal platform fashion but the game world does not scroll along with her, and is instead made up of what are essentially a number of single-screen areas. This, together with the third person view, completely removes any chance of nausea while playing.
Quill has a cute little sword and a rather limited jump, and at first the game concentrates purely on simple platform puzzles – climbable ledges indicated by little white marks similar to Uncharted and Tomb Raider. But you, as Quill’s mysterious helper, can also interact with the world via a motion-controlled, bubble-like cursor that allows to you move and rotate heavy objects or interfere with enemies that are attacking Quill. Or which can be used to trigger pressure pads and other puzzle elements.
At first it seems the game is going to be an overly simplistic cake walk, but soon enough the puzzles begin to get tougher, the combat becomes more than just a distraction, and multiple locations are involved at once. For the first half hour we were just sitting on the sofa, playing the game, occasionally peeking around a corner when we lost sight of Quill. But as the complexity of the backdrops increased we found ourselves standing up to get a proper look at a giant (but still mouse-sized) temple that we had to peer into and around like a dollhouse.
We don’t want to spoil anything that comes later, but the interactions with Quill are a continual delight, as she gives you a little dance and a thumbs up when solving a particularly hard puzzle or gestures a hint if you seem to be stuck. The PlayStation VR tracks your head movement as well, so if you happen to loom in too close she’ll give a surprised yelp at you invading her personal space.
The game’s Unreal Engine graphics are excellent, in terms of both the detail and the animation. But it’s also the scale that impresses, as even though you’re technically human-sized we still gasped the first time a deer wandered past to gaze quizzically at Quill running by. Moss is proof that the most obvious application for new technology is not necessarily the most interesting and we’re now dreading going back to a normal non-VR third person game.
At around four hours long, Moss is, inevitably, not that long an experience, but we did enjoy seeking out the little parchments hidden on most screens, that help unlock secrets back at the library and extends the runtime a little. The game’s only other real flaw is the forgettable storyline and a few minor bugs with the physics engine. The combat also never really evolves in the way the puzzles do, but it’s clearly not the focus of the game.
If you own a PlayStation VR then there is no question: you must play Moss. Given the length we wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a game worth buying the hardware for, but it is the most compelling post-launch title so far and a hugely encouraging sign of things to come.
In Short: One of the most impressive PlayStation VR games so far, in terms of both its technical achievements and the sheer joy of playing it.
Pros: The game world is beautiful and wonderfully immersive. Quill is hugely endearing, with great animation. Some very clever puzzles and enjoyable, if lightweight, combat.
Cons: The game’s not terribly long and you will be left wanting more. Uninteresting story.
Formats: PlayStation VR
Release Date: 27th February 2018
Age Rating: 7
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