Best of E3 2017: Moss was the first VR game that truly charmed me
I couldn’t stop talking about Moss at E3, it was one of the best games at the show without a doubt.
If you are familiar with me at all, you know that I am a huge critic of the VR movement. Almost every VR game I’ve had the opportunity to play has been filled with on-rails shooting, mech suits and tired mechanics that wear out their welcome faster than it takes to find that visual sweet spot on a VR headset.
So when Polyarc Games sent me an email about an unannounced PSVR game at E3, I almost ignored it. Actually, I did, I figured it was another on-rails shooter. During the PlayStation press conference, there was one VR game that relatively caught my eye, it had a mouse in it and was made by… Polyarc? Moss was the name and it was the one PlayStation game I decided I wanted to see. I dropped a line to the PR team and got a confirmation to check it out shortly after.
When the time came to see the game, I learned that the hero of the game is named Quill and she was actually completely controllable, although you don’t technically play as her. In fact, there were a lot of things about the game that made this look like more than some one-off PSVR title.
The player is an actual character in the world of Moss, you play a spirit that looks straight out of a Miyazaki movie. As the spirit, you can interact with objects and characters within the game to help Quill solve puzzles. There are some combat situations Quill will find herself in, and you can gently squeeze her to feel her pulse in your controller. This serves as a really creative was to check her health, it can also allow you to pet her too, which causes her to react adorably.
Now, as I already said, you do fully control Quill. It seems that your direct control over her is meant to be more of her working alongside you and there are subtle nuances that make you feel less like you are controlling a character and more like you are there to help. For starters, Quill approaches obstacles with almost no fear. She’s careful around enemies but seems to be a seasoned warrior, checking her blind-spots casually as she readies for combat. When platforming, she moves with confidence and quickness, while occasionally taking the time to acknowledge and thank you for your help. I don’t know much of Quill’s backstory but I immediately fell in love with her design and can’t wait to find out more.
Something interesting about Moss is that it is a story from The Book of Moss, meaning more of Quill’s adventures can be told on other formats when the time comes. The fact that the game takes place within a book was pretty neat because as you move from one screen to the next, you can hear a page turning. I love the forethought to this because while Moss is a PSVR title, it doesn’t have to be a series exclusive to a format that may or may not succeed.
Enough backstory, let’s talk about gameplay!
The demo I played starts with us opening up the aforementioned Book of Moss. After I did, a scene where Quill came out from the woods happened and we were immediately into gameplay. Now, before I got started, the developer told me to take a moment to look down and I saw the ghostly visage of my spirit character. After taking a moment to do this, I was ready to control Quill and tackle the first few obstacles to get the hang of controlling her.
Soon after, I came across a gap that seemed way too large for Quill to jump across. At this point, the dev pointed out that I could grab and interact with objects in the world. After reaching out and pulling a platform out for Quill, the gap was easy to pass. The dev did have a laugh that I put the platform back where I got it and I explained I had been conditioned to do this by puzzles in the past.
After a few puzzles that I quickly breezed through, I was able to get my first combat situation in Moss. While I was effortlessly hacking away at enemy beetles, the dev recommended that I reach out to grab one. Upon doing so, he explained that I could also possess characters and exert some control over them. The beetle was defensive but would also slowly follow the movements of the controller in my hand. This came in handy during a puzzle that used pressure plates or when there were multiple enemies that Quill has to deal with.
Did I also mention that I can fully control Quill while interacting with objects or characters? It kept the game fluidly moving the entire time
The final puzzle of the demo involved me rotating a large metal bell-like cage with a pair of doors. The goal was to pull the doors down, pull an enemy onto a pressure plate then bring over Quill so so I could access another door. Then I had to rotate the bell so the another plate could be triggered, which brought me to a point where Quill thanked me for my assistance. After this puzzle, I was given a quick video where she is confronted by a viper and the game ends as the viper goes to strike.
Overall, the whole demo took me under 10 minutes to complete, which the developer said was possibly the fastest he had seen. I have to say that I had such an easy time with it because while the puzzles weren’t difficult at all, Quill handled absolutely wonderfully. I didn’t have to do things like test how high and far she could jump or learn really poor combat mechanics. The game was straightforward and I couldn’t have been happier about it.
After wrapping it up, I asked the developer about how long Moss will be. He explained that as their first foray into the world being a VR one, the entire adventure would take about four hours. He also pointed out that if I played the full game at the pace I completed the demo with, I could beat it in about two.
It must have been pretty obvious that there was some disappointment from that answer because he immediately also pointed out that they were aware that with the game’s price needed to match the experience length and that the game wasn’t going to be a full-priced release. I appreciated the response but Moss is so nice, I feel like the developer and players are being robbed by the platform limitations. I guess this is why that Book of Moss exists, however.
I’m still not sure that VR will really have a place in the video game industry, but Polyarc’s Moss is undeniably the first VR game that I can say I truly and unequivocally enjoyed. Not only do I want to play the full game, I also want to see many more of Quill’s adventures in the future. I couldn’t stop talking about Moss at E3, it was one of the best games at the show without a doubt.
Polyarc, pat yourselves on the back, you have a best in show with this one.