The hype is real. This is exactly the kind of experience VR exists to deliver. But I'm going to need a lot more of it.
Imagine for a moment you are a giant spirit, your sheer mass allowing you to gaze down upon the world as though we humans were all living in dollhouses. You have the ability to interfere with our lives in small ways, but your primary task in life is to observe the story that is our existence.
That, in a nutshell, is the new PlayStation VR game Moss. You more or less observe story of Quill, a brave little mouse who is called to greatness. She's got destiny on her side and you as the hovering spirit to help her out from time to time, and what you experience in this game is the first part of her story.
Listen, learn, and fight!
Moss story and art
Moss is more or less a side-scrolling adventure brought to Virtual Reality, presented as though you are journeying through pages in a book. The game is broken up into sections you can observe by sitting still, looking from left to right. Quill starts on one side of the screen, and you help her get to the other side. The representation isn't always left to right, but that is certainly the default. As you complete a section, you hear a page turn and the world around you changes to the next part of the scene. Rinse, repeat.
What makes each section interesting are the puzzles. Quill needs to navigate the world from the perspective of a small mouse, while you observe and help with advantages like seeing through walls and being able to stand up to see the whole area. You can peer around corners Quill cannot, and together you unlock doors and set traps and fight. Neither of you are able to do this alone, but together the puzzles are a lot of fun to play through. The ability to stand up and look around a world is incredible, and on more than one occasion gave me the unique perspective I needed to quickly solve a puzzle and move on with the story.
This is also the real opportunity to take in the art of the game. Moss is built in such a way that Quill sees everything as fairly simple and either dark or colorful through most of the game, but with your superior vantage you see a world utterly destroyed by a massive war interrupted by stunning moments of untouched simplicity and beauty.
Moss is a shining example of what makes VR gaming so special.
When I say you observe Quill, I'm being a little obtuse. You still very much control Quill with your DualShock controller, with buttons for attack and jump to generally navigate her around. But when you get to a puzzle, she uses a combination of squeaks and American Sign Language and gestures to show you how to solve the puzzle. You as the giant spirit interact with her as an equal, giving her high fives and waving to her when she waves at you, but when it comes to jumping off cliffs and fighting monsters it is very much you in control of the mouse. This split focus is a lot of fun, because you can multitask quite effectively. Your abilities are mostly limited to healing Quill and lifting heavy things when they need lifting when it comes to physically influencing the world, but by being able to see everything from your mighty vantage you can better guide Quill as you see fit.
In fact, by basically using your face as the camera angle for the third-person Quill experience in Moss, it often becomes easy to find flaws in the world this game is built on. Areas the developers have arbitrarily stopped you from climbing on or jumping through because it doesn't suit the puzzle, but as the viewer you can clearly see Quill could easily step through a hole in the wall or climb a wall a different way. Like many games, Moss adds a splash of color to areas it wants you to climb instead of leaving it to the player to discover and making the experience a little more open. It's an unfortunate bit of user agency restriction in an otherwise fantastic environment.
Don't get distracted, no matter what
Most third-person hack and slash games, of which Moss very much is, features a hero that can take a couple of hits. Quill is not that kind of character, and that introduces an amazing level of difficulty you don't frequently experience in this genre. Most of the enemies in this game can seriously damage Quill with a single hit, and as you progress in the store there are several enemies capable of dispatching her with single strikes. Success in these fights relies on Quill's speed, and your ability to interrupt certain attacks as the giant spirit while also counterattacking as Quill. It's remarkable how challenging that concept can become when there are multiple enemies in play, because the natural instinct from years of gamplay is to focus on what Quill is doing in a fight. In fact, if you don't lean back a little and observe the entire arena for combat, Quill is likely to be in a lot more trouble.
Moss is also uniquely challenging in its hidden puzzles. Nearly every section of the game has a hidden scroll for Quill to find, so much so that coming across an area without a scroll can occasionally feel like a failure on your part. These scrolls often require additional planning in a puzzle so you don't have to start over, or standing up and looking around the map to see areas Quill cannot. This whole aspect of the game invites a level of interaction you can't get outside of this environment. In this respect, Moss is a shining example of what makes VR gaming so special.
The story itself is very linear, right down to the level of interaction in your gameplay. Everything starts off very casual, but by the end of this part of the story you are at the edge of your seat rushing Quill from section to section to see what happens next. The enemies become increasingly more challenging, the puzzles start to grow beyond individual sections of the story, and eventually you are in a full sprint to the end of the tale. It's the kind of experience you can thoroughly enjoy in a single sitting because it sucks you in, but also because the story itself isn't particularly long.
I completed my first run through Moss in a little over three hours to see how the story ended. I missed quite a bit, and plan to go back and fully explore the game from beginning to end, but either way you look at it this is not a long game. The ending makes it very clear this is the first part of a story, which implies there will be more to play at some point in the future.
Should you buy it? Absolutely
I loved every minute of this game. There are a few small things I would change, starting with Polyarc's decision to start every chapter with a blinding flash of white light directly into my eyeholes, but it's a small criticism in what was otherwise an exceptional story. There can be no greater sign of a quality experience than getting to the end and wanting more, and Moss delivers that without making you feel like you've been shortchanged.
If you own a PlayStation VR, spend the $30 and take a trip through Moss. You will not regret it.
- Incredible scale and immersion
- Beautiful environments
- Challenging puzzles
- Physically painful flashes of white light
- Little user agency
- Game can be beaten in three hours