When you think of virtual reality games, you probably think of first-person action titles that try to immerse you in a world that feels real. Moss for PlayStation VR does things differently, which makes it stand out in the VR space. Instead of a first-person view, you’re an overseer that guides a little mouse, named Quill, through a dangerous yet tranquil world.
From a predetermined vantage point, you’re able to look in and around the environment. As you control Quill with the DualShock 4’s left analog stick, you yourself interact with the world by physically moving the controller and pulling the R2 trigger to grab and move key objects. Moss recognizes your movement by having the PlayStation Camera track the DS4 lightbar, which is represented by a blue orb in-game. Along with jumping and swinging a sword, these straightforward concepts are just enough to drive you through the game’s wondrous aesthetic.
I had the chance to play through a demo at E3 2017, which opened with Quill rustling through the grass and popping out into the riverside area in my view. She walked out to the pier atop the river where my perspective was fixed, and she waved at me. Although the level design appeared basic, I felt dwarfed by the trees as I looked up at the forest canopy. From here, I moved her along the dirt road and simultaneously manipulated structures using motion controls to clear the path forward. The symbiotic relationship between me, as the auspicious guide, and Quill was apparent from the start; this extended to combat scenarios and the more perplexing puzzles when we entered some sort of ancient temple.
A very barebones fight was my only taste of combat, but it revealed a few of Moss’ mechanics. While I made Quill swing her sword and hop around to avoid damage from hostile beetles, I used the motion controls to possess one beetle and redirect its path as I fought the others. If I take this scenario one step further, I can imagine frantic battles where I’m constantly managing aggressive enemies and slashing through mobs with Quill. I can only speculate and hope for now, as it could be a crucial complement to puzzles.
One such puzzled involved a rotating staircase in the demo’s last playable room. To advance, I needed to get Quill to the upper floor by figuring out the exact activation sequence of floor switches to open doors on the staircase and position it appropriately. Across the room was a beetle to take control of, which was an essential piece to the puzzle. It’s one of those logic problems where the solution either comes from aggravating trial-and-error or a sharp, perceptive eye. But at this point, I saw how most of the tools at my disposal worked. It’s not revolutionary or clever on the level of The Witness or Portal, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s one of the simple parts of the whole that makes up Moss.
Darkness consumed the final room, where what appeared to be either the game’s villain or first boss came slithering towards Quill. And just as this colossal, red-eyed snake instilled fear in us, the demo concluded. What it all means remains a mystery as Moss’ narrative is under construction; developer Polyarc stated it’s still working out the details of the game’s story. Polyarc also said that we should expect a journey where your personal connection with Quill grows over the course of the game. I could pet our little mouse friend or give belly rubs and get a cute reaction, but I’m looking forward to how the tougher, more frightening moments will affect her.
Moss itself may not break new ground, but it’s a microcosm of how VR can be used to create a unique experience while sticking to simplicity. VR doesn’t always have to be about simulating a corporeal experience in a digital world, but it should always be imaginative. If the demo is any indication of the final game, I can foresee an adventure that could enamor us with intelligent puzzles, mesmerizing environments, and challenging battles. I’m also hoping that there’s a narrative push to keep us invested. It comes down to execution, and we’ll find out when it releases for PlayStation VR during the holiday season this year.