Friday
Apr132018

QCF: Moss

n the media that we digest, there exist a plethora of fictional worlds that remain with many of those who have visited them for years on after, purely through the magic of that universe’s inherent intrigue. Video games in particular, have been able to craft exceptionally memorable settings because of the advantage of interaction that they can offer to the players who travel to their worlds, and the introduction of Virtual Reality has opened up a whole new plane of possibilities for world building.

Fledgling developer Polyarc recognized this potential, and sought out to produce a fantasy realm that permeated a larger-than-life sense of adventure that utilized all of the horsepower that the PlayStation VR peripheral could output with their puzzle-based platformer, MOSS. Even though there aren’t many contemporaries that can compare to the ambitious scale of Polyarc’s premier release, to begin with, the team was still able to produce a charming journey with a distinctive identity of its own, and follow through on a promising start towards what may be the first true killer-app that the PlayStation VR has seen since its launch.

The one quality that Virtual Reality is expected deliver better than any other format is immersion, and by that token, Moss executes it in flawless fashion. At the very start of the adventure, players are gradually engrossed within a thematic world that artfully expands its sense of scale around the diminutive stature of its adorable protagonist, a brave field mouse named Quill. As the curtains pull back for Quill’s quest, she encounters a trinket known simply as glass, and her possession of the mystical object introduces her to a disembodied companion that’s simply known as “The Reader.”

The art design in the graphics are striking, to say the least, and a lot of that has to with Moss’s visual direction evoking a personality that’s a lot deeper than the stock medieval greenery that used in typical fantasy affairs. From dilapidated statues of the furry monarchs of the past that garnish the landscape, to the ancient temples that ruled the kingdom before it was overcome by the tyranny of a malevolent serpent, every scene is adorned with an immaculate detail that fleshes out the substance of Moss’s presentation in ways that naturally draw in your sensories as though you were actually there. The execution of the VR engine at work does such an incredible job; static screenshots of the game in action simply don’t do the justice that Moss’s presentation truly deserves.

The encounter between Quill and this ethereal being not only sets the stage for the adventure, but for the tandem gameplay involved with controlling Quill and the Reader.

The intrepid mouse warrior is controlled through a more traditional 3D platforming dynamic, while the ghostly companion is controlled through a Point ‘N Click cursor that’s operated with the PlayStation 4 Controller’s Lightbar sensor, in linear stages that act as linear set-pieces for Quill to traverse. Many of the mechanics around the puzzles in these levels will require the Reader to intervene by interacting with certain elements like an obstacle, or a hazard before Quill can be used to complete the stage. The levels themselves are designed around the camera being fixed from a point-of-view perspective, and are constructed with a diorama-like architecture that empathizes active surveillance from a multitude of angles that can be explored by both Quill, and the reader respectively.

To its credit, this ambitious concept works remarkably well, so long as the proper conditions for optimal performance with VR recognition are accounted for of course.

Exploring the added depth of each level is an exercise that becomes more intuitive than the last; even when the steady pace of the game’s creeping difficulty curve begins to crank up the challenge, its trials and tribulations will never reach a fever pitch that compromises the sense of empowerment that it gives to its players.

While the platforming and exploratory mechanics are on point, the combat is unfortunately not as smooth, as enemy mobs can make short work out of Quill without a lot of reaction time being granted to the player to respond. A lot of the clunky detection in combat has to do with the heroic critter’s hit-box being disproportionately larger than normal, which might be a symptom of the game’s VR framework. There is a special mechanic granted to the player as a workaround to this flaw, however, as the Reader’s cursor can highlight Quill and heal her wounds after a couple of waggles on the Dualshock 4, but the ability is less than ideal. The healing technique takes some time to complete, which as a result, leaves Quill vulnerable to further onslaught during the arduous process.

While Moss does plenty to immerse your senses, it works evens harder to characterize the role that you play with Quill and the unspoken nuances of your working relationship with one another.

See, unlike the typical protagonist/supporter dynamic that’s been done in adventure titles before it, Quill possesses an auxiliary AI system that solely programmed around her reacting to any and all actions made by the Reader.

Whether it’s something as simple as accidentally startling from behind, taking too long to admire the scenery, or even high-fiving her with your cursor after conquering a deceptively challenging puzzle, Quill’s cognizance of your actions is genuinely engaging. In addition to her awareness of you, if she is left on idle, the little rodent will independently emote to the surroundings, and hazards in her immediate vicinity—if left on standby long enough, Quill will even telegraph vague clues for the solution of the stage obstacle. 

The interactive charm in this adventure will resonate with players much deeper than the visual spectacle, because when it comes right down to it, the conceit of Moss’s VR design is ludonarrative harmony at its finest.

The biggest issue that holds this PlayStation VR exclusive back is that it’s over before you know it, with only handful of hours of gameplay to enjoy before the credits suddenly scroll onto the screen. Even though the allusions to a sequel were far from subtle, the experience was just a bit too fleeting for how magical it was.

Minor gripes aside, not since REZ Infinite, and SuperHyperCube has the PlayStation VR seen such an extraordinary piece of software in its library quite like Moss; this game is an absolute must for anyone who’s invested in the high-tech peripheral, and also stands as an excellent reason to own one. Whenever Virtual Reality does manage to finish its transition into the mainstream market, it will be thanks to games like Moss for getting it there.

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