Moss Preview: An Enchanting Virtual Storybook
Ben Sheene / Jul 12th, 2017 No Comments
Over 120 exhibitors demonstrated some type of virtual reality product at E3 2017. Whether it was an on-rails shoot ’em up, a glove that allowed your hands to act like a controller, or some demonstration that had people flailing wildly in front of a green screen, VR had a definite presence. So much for a fad, right?
While the industry seems determined to justify the existence of expensive headsets, there’s something important to note about VR at E3. Unless you were Skyrim and Fallout or one of Sony’s handful of games, your virtual reality product likely clung to the outskirts of either hall or was tucked away in a meeting room somewhere. A few Asian companies with deep pockets had obviously funneled some cash into creating loud, large booths strategically placed next to big publishers as well.
It’s hard to describe virtual reality to a person who has never experienced it. It’s even harder to justify a $400+ headset on account of a few noteworthy “experiences” and truly immersive games. Yet after spending time with Polyarc’s Moss, I can say it was my favorite thing I got my hands on at E3 this year. More importantly, it’s shaping up to be a game that exemplifies the value of the platform it was created for.
A Mouse’s Tale
Unlike the majority of VR games I’ve played, Moss isn’t asking players to be a head on a stick walking through the world shooting at things and poking around corners. Players control a tiny mouse named Quill in platforming, puzzle, and combat sections while observing the world from a distance but also as a part of the game in the form of a magic spirit. As this spirit, players can move their heads to look deeper into the world, interact with objects, and pet Quill.
The bond between the player and Quill may feel instant as the wonderfully animated brings smiles after her first appearance. However, the story is about these two strangers creating a relationship over the course of the adventure. Quill is a mouse from a small village who is called out on a greater purpose of defending the world from a looming evil. The player is a floating spirit summoned forth to guide this brave rodent. Understandably, it’s initially difficult for Quill to trust a glowing-blue face that has appeared in her world. Helping her through combat and progression is a mechanical and narrative method to craft a larger connection between the two.
Moss is the kind of game that drops players into a world that they can instantly relate to. Though I doubt many of us have spent time as a small creature running through a fantastical forest, Polyarc has vividly made a world that feels cozy. Despite the knowledge of danger lurking in the darkest corners of the shadows, the lush greens and patches of sunlight that flood the screen in front of you echo the feelings of warm sunlight and fresh dew.
Players will have an even stronger relation to the world because the PSVR headset brings it to stunning life. Several times I stopped to take in the scenery by actually moving my head into this virtual diorama of this world. Players can turn their head to watch Quill enter and exit scenes, getting a peek at whatever foliage or structures were nearby. It’s a joy to breathe this space in because it feels natural and alive.
Virtual Reality Rodents
The VR “hook” of Moss isn’t just about touching the virtual world with motion controls, it’s about creating this bond with an adorable character that, for lack of a more appropriate thought, feels straight out of the best minds at Pixar or Nintendo. The wooded area I demoed in was brought to beautiful life with the PSVR but it was Quill that sold me on the game. As she slowly walks onto the screen for the first time, Quill evokes those feelings of having a childhood bet. She may be a mouse that can defend herself with a sword but this is a character you want to take care of.
When Quill gets hurt in combat players can move their hands into the scene to touch her and heal her. Like any pet she loves being touched but isn’t afraid to make noises and gestures at the player when she’s figured out the solution to a puzzle before you. While my E3 demo was a definite vertical slice of the early game, a lot of neat tricks and mechanics were stuffed into the game that I can only see Polyarc building on with more complexity.
The three puzzles I dealt with in the demo had complexity and were satisfying to solve. A simple one asked me to drag platforms around for Quill to jump on or a move a statue onto a pressure plate. But then I was rotating a central pillar in a room and moving Quill around pressure plates and controlling an enemy at the same time. Later puzzles might leave you stumped but I only had to scratch my head for a bit before figuring out the solution.
I will be interested to see if Quill learns any new moves or gets equipment over the course of her journey. More than anything, I’m excited to see what new environments Moss has in store. The thick woods and crumbling temple of the E3 demo were a delight but I can’t help but think how impressive deserts or castles or the seaside would look.
After I took off the headset, Quill’s world lingered with me for the rest of the week. There’s a magical game here but also one that speaks to the unique ways virtual reality can elevate traditional games. Moss’ charm was apparently significant enough for Sony to give it top billing at its press conference. My demo took place in a small meeting room, away from the excess of E3 2017. The setting was appropriate for such an intimate game and helped make it my pick for Best of E3 2017.
Because Moss is more than just an on-rails shooter I think it deserves attention in the somewhat confusing market of virtual reality games. More so, it’s beauty and lovingly-crafted nature of letting players bond with such an incredible character shows what the medium is capable of.
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tags: e3 , E3 2017 , Moss , Moss Preview , Polyarc , preview , PSVR