One of the standout reveals at Sony’s E3 2017 press event was Moss from Polyarc, an upstart studio made up of former AAA-developers. Something about its main character Quill — who is a tiny little female mouse with a rad looking gauntlet and sword on a quest to save a family member — instantly captured my attention and adulation. A few days after the reveal I was lucky enough to meet with Polyarc to get some hands-on time with Moss, and after playing it I’m expecting it to be the next water cooler discussion worthy VR game coming to the PSVR. It just looks, plays, and feels like a title that will get GOTY considerations. It definitely provides a very immersive and emotional VR experience that is light on gimmicks and big on heart, and it has a design quality that seemingly nails how to make a memorable gameplay experience for a VR platform.
In Moss, which is the name of the world you play in as the Reader, you experience the narrative in a library as you flip through the pages of a book. In the game world, which is a representation of the tale the Reader is reading, you take on the role of a Spirit who joins forces with Quill to help her find her family member. At first, Quill is a bit fearful of your presence, because you are still the size of a human, albeit in this Spirit form. You’re essentially a god-like being who must interact with the game world and Quill to help her through her emotional journey, so the bond between the Reader in Spirit form and the heroine is a core storytelling mechanic in Moss.
As the Reader you directly interact with the game world with the PS4 controller in a first person view. You use the controller to manipulate the world to help Quill solve puzzles and move on to the next section. For example, in the demo I played I had to reach into the world and manipulate platforms for her to use to get to the other side of a room. This operation consisted of me spinning a cylindrical stone structure with doors on it so Quill could enter it on one side of the level and then have me rotate it by reaching in with the controller. The level of immersion this puzzle offered is great, and it adds to the illusion that you’re this omnipotent being who can shape the world of Moss as you see fit, so VR definitely helps to give the game more dimensions to its gameplay and narrative.
You also control Quill, so again, the bond between her and you as the Reader/Spirit is very symbiotic and crucial to how everything in the game plays out. While controlling Quill you still use the PS4 controller, but in a standard action-adventure puzzle game type of way. I experienced a bit of combat and platforming, and had no issues with the controls, which felt overly familiar. I just appreciated the mix of gameplay tactics, which blend VR-style immersion through the Reader with solid action-adventure gameplay while maneuvering Quill across a level. This combo resulted in the gameplay feeling like a game, and not just a gimmicky take on what a VR headset can do, which I appreciated greatly because I’m a fan of the medium, but find it lacking actual games to play. I feel Moss will definitely fill that void when it releases.
When it comes down to my final impressions of the Moss E3 demo I would be remiss in not mentioning how beautiful the world looks in VR thanks to its style of graphical presentation. It plays on the whole scale motif between you and Quill, so the levels essentially sit at your eye line and have a sense of depth to them. Not necessarily a 3D effect with visuals coming off of the screen, but more of an effect that makes it feel like the world has three dimensions and depth to it even though it scrolls from side-to-side. I’ve struggled to coin a term for this type of visual presentation, because it is relatively new and rooted in the VR space, so for now I’m going to call it VR-D. It’s not completely 2D, but it’s not pop off the screen 3D either, it’s a new dimension reserved for VR that looks absolutely amazing and works perfectly for the type of game Moss is trying to be.
If you’ve been thinking your PSVR is more of a dust collector than video game peripheral, then I urge you to hold onto it for a few more months. I think developers have finally had enough time and experimentation with the medium to wrap their heads around how to make actual games for it, and Polyarc seems to have perfected the formula with Moss. Make sure to keep tabs on this new IP, because after my demo with it I have a strong feeling that it will be a standout hit once it releases for the PSVR in early 2018.
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