Moss PS4 Review
VR gaming on consoles has had a bit of a slow start, with Sony’s revolutionary headset enjoying a healthy momentum but not exactly catching the world on fire. Part of the blame can be attributed to developers too focused on coming up with short-term gimmick games rather than investing the time and resources into creating longer and more fulfilling experiences only possible through VR. As of this writing, the only titles that have truly taken advantage of the new hardware have been full-featured games like Resident Evil 7, Skyrim and Rez Infinite, all of which can be played without the PSVR.
Moss is the first game in a long while to truly feel like an exclusive VR experience, a gorgeous presentation with an immersive perspective that can rope in even the biggest skeptics. Developed by Polyarc, the focus of the game is much different than the usual VR fare that has been seen so far: instead of a first person perspective where everything is up close and personal (often intentionally intrusive), the world of Moss is actually seen from a distance through an isometric fixed perspective. Think of the pre-rendered backgrounds of Final Fantasy VII and other JRPGs during the PSX era, though the decision here isn’t just a stylistic one.
While players have direct control over the main mouse protagonist Quill, they are actually assuming the role of the Reader, a mythical Ghibli-esque deity who can manipulate many objects to help Quill reach her next goal: by controlling a floating orb with the Dualshock 4’s gyro sensor, switches to bridges can be flipped, platforms can be pushed and pulled around, and even enemies can be taken over to halt their attacks, or direct them towards other enemies. It is a game where the player and the protagonist are acting independently while cooperating with one another, and the moments in which Quill looks directly at the player while offering advice and/or approval is one of the most heartwarming virtual interactions seen in a long while.
That whimsical attention to detail makes up much of the beautiful, often haunting world of Moss. Like many other mouse-centric classics like The Secret of Nimh and Redwall, the fantasy world of Moss takes real world animal sizes into account: being a brave yet tiny rodent, everyday objects and animals are all gargantuan compared to Quill; a field of rusty war-torn human armor is an endless labyrinth, a deer drinking at a lake is a dinosaur-sized creature that barely acknowledges her existence, and so on. Even the storytelling medium of the game feels like an old Jim Henson TV special, where cutscenes are presented as pages in a book and one narrator does the voices of every single character that appears.
Gameplay-wise, Moss features a combination of action and adventure, though the emphasis is largely in favor of the latter. Every screen is basically a puzzle that players must figure out in order to get Quill safely to the next area. The solutions are rarely obtuse and always feel satisfactory upon completion, while the combat is simplistic but engaging enough to break the momentum, while the most memorable puzzles involve using an enemy’s unique ability to advance (such as taking control of a robotic scarab’s arm cannon to hit an out-of-reach switch, or using a volatile creature’s body to detonate and clear rubble).
If there is one minor complaint, it is how the game’s perspective often requires players to turn their necks far to the side in order to determine Quill’s location. This could prove uncomfortable depending on the individual, and is unfortunately a requirement in order to plan out the next path in the adventure. There are also instances where the game encourages Quill to move out of bounds in order to reach the next area; while there is always a handy silhouette that shows Quill’s location when an object is obscuring her, there have been a few cases where the game allows players to loop around the stage only to end up at a pitfall. Fortunately, the checkpoint system is generous enough that no real progress is ever lost.
Without a doubt, the PSVR needs more games like Moss; its use of VR prioritizes long-lasting immersion over cheap gimmicks that end as soon as they begin, and it also shows how VR tech can be used to create a more personal engagement between the player and the character (waifu simulators notwithstanding). It is still on the short side, just barely 4 hours, but it is also a game that more likely to warrant a revisit time and again, and hopefully will serve as inspiration for developers going forward to develop more unique VR games for the PSVR hardware while still in its infancy.