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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Polyarc Games
Release Date: Feb. 27, 2018

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PS4 VR Review - 'Moss'

by Michael Keener on Aug. 31, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Moss is an action-adventure puzzle game, built for virtual reality from the ground up, that re-imagines classic gameplay in a first-of-its-kind fully immersive environment.

Buy Moss

If you've had the good fortune of attending a theatre production — not a movie but a musical or play with live acting and unpredictable moments of stage work — then you'll know what to expect from Moss . The difference is that you get to experience it in the comfort of your own home. The eloquent story explains how a cute, innocent little mouse named Quill comes to find a god-like magical being, and how that magical being helps her through an intense journey. Moss m akes the game world interactive for the player  by shotgunning them into the story as a key character .

The opening level sees Quill emerging from the bush as you float above a small pond. While exploring the areas around her village, she suddenly hides in fear from a hunting hawk. The sound of the predatory call and "whoosh" as it flies overhead will encourage players to look around to see how close it came to feasting on us . It' s the earliest example of VR work that sets the tone for players.

Once out of sight, she finds a small glowing relic behind her in the safety hole. The power within is released, and she can now see you : a floating, ominous god-like figure. If you look straight down at the water below, you can catch a glimpse of yourself. Your presence is acknowledged, and you begin to guide her on what will become a journey of her life.

As the story begins to unfold, the player learns that something unfortunate has happened to Quill's uncle. A beautiful aspect is that the story is told via a picture book, which is located within a cathedral. The area is large and open, full of lit candles and stacks of books. The narrator's voice reads the book aloud for the reader while the book comes to life in the game.

Controlling Quill is easy, but the overall gameplay throws a curveball that keeps it a challenging package. Motion controls aren't compatible, so players will need to use the standard DualShock 4 controller. Describing it as old-school combat controls would give you an idea of the basic gameplay: Move the analog stick to move Quill, and attacks and jumps are executed with the face buttons. There is not much more to this part, which can feel like more of a platformer than an RPG. The crux of the narrative is delivered via visuals and relaxed storytelling. As an all-seeing entity, the player gains the ability to control an enemy and alter the movements of various structures to allow Quill to traverse the environment more easily.

The first time this is tested is when the little mouse needs to reach the top of a structure via a wooden wheel in the river. Naturally, the current spins the wheel, but grabbing it with your supernatural power slows it down enough for Quill to jump on and off at the right time. This is only one of dozens of different obstacles and puzzles, but the majority are as simple as moving platforms around, intervening in the timing and pace of structures, and moving weighted objects on pressure plates.

Failing to keep Quill alive does not have any dramatic consequences. The screen fades to black, and the stage resets so you can try again. The playable areas are set up so you'll only ever have to redo a minute or so of gameplay — about the equivalent of a page in the storybook. Each chapter is depicted as a book chapter, with beautiful pictures and a fitting narrative hovering nearby.

The single most important aspect of Moss is the presentation. I compared it to a stage production because players sit in a dark area, and before them is the playable level – essentially a very well-lit stage. It connects to other playable areas via doorways, hollow logs, etc. This is quite the opposite feeling of sitting in an empty space and watching the game play out on a floating surface. While sitting in the dark portion of the world, you can take a full 360-degree look around the area to soak in the environment. Just as inspiring as it is to get up close to the characters, taking in the beautiful visuals is just as entertaining.

My biggest gripe about Moss, as clichéd as it sounds, is that it eventually ended. VR games by nature struggle to provide a massive amount of content. This is partially due to the limitations that still exist for developers at this early stage, but it's also due to the fact that many people struggle to play with a VR headset for extended periods of time. The story doesn't wrap up in the perfect way, but this can easily be attributed to a foreseeable sequel. As amazing as Moss is, I welcome everyone to try this initial product and set sights on the future.

Moss is a gorgeous virtual reality experience that combines the eloquence of a theatrical play, the cuteness of smaller-sized subjects and making their scale feel grander, and the enjoyment of playing video games. I have never experienced something quite like Moss, and although it is partially due to the VR headset, it's more than equally due to how the developers used the technology to create a genuinely enjoyable experience. Moss is probably my favorite VR game yet, and I'd expect that sentiment to be echoed by many others.

Score: 8.8/10

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