Strung out by day 2 (Day 5 if you count upwards from EA Play through the conferences) of E3 and deep night after parties, I hurried from a Bandai Namco Booth Tour to some hands on time with Polyarc’s PSVR title Moss; an arrangement my colleagues sorted out just minutes from my attending.
Out in the Concourse hall away from the (now open to consumer) madness, tucked inside a room labeled Polyarc (an intimate amalgamation of some serious clout), and under a blast of concentrated below-freezing air conditioning, I found something that returned a bit of life to me. In the moment and afterwards, I knew I had experienced something unorthodox, something special. I left reinvigorated, inspired, and lighter.
That experience was Moss, the first fully fledged VR game. In it, you simul-play two characters. An ephemeral, nearly god-like observer controlled by VR and motions controls, and Quill the agile, mousey, warrior, controlled by the PS4 controller. Here’s an experience that’ll stimulate parts of the brain in ways you never have, and can only have, here.
You control two characters through different means of the mind. It provokes the bizarre feeling that you've split yourself into two, interacting, entities. Quill’s quirky & individualized, and the observer naturally feels more you. Perhaps you play Quill more instinctually through a way that feels more dormant and separate, whereas you play the observer more consciously from your own perspective. The game's excellent puzzles will juggle that latency. They'll force you to become more conscious controlling Quill and less so as the observer and vice versa.
Moss begins on us entering the story through an ancient text, and much of the game is structured around this concept -- that we are here, witnessing a story from left to right, interacting with it, and playing it through. Quill controls simply. She has to, I imagine, for the balance to work. Combat is a minimalist dash and slash that feels surprisingly satisfying, and she can manage a bit of platforming on her own. When puzzles present themselves the observer will have to intervene, though, by scooping Quill up, interacting with the environment, or giving Quill a good pet for encouragement. You might trip yourself up when you realize that the relationship you're developing with Quill mirrors the relationship you develop with these separate seeming components of the mind that're responsible for each character.
Enemies in Moss are not just obstacles, they’re useful tools that're also connected to progression. The mechanized crab beasties can be moved by the observer to activate switches. That’s one of the many things in Moss that you’ll come to discover on your own.
These discoveries feel more fruitful than most games. Maybe that's due to an innovation that makes them feel more novel, or perhaps it's moreso that Polyarc trusts you with these new and unexplored tools to make them. It'll give you subtle nods and nudges if it feels you need them, but it's never gratuitous, and is always in favor of your relationship with Quill (who doles them out).
This is not only the rare VR game that ascends the label of a gimmick, it is the rare video game to do so. It is not just gameplay mechanics with a story excuse for them, nor is it a story with gameplay just to progress it. Here, story, gameplay, and new VR technology unravel in unison. They complement one another and make for a greater whole.
Polyarc’s done something special here, something you can’t just watch or read about to understand. It can only be experienced, and, even then, you’ll be fumbling for words. That’s an effect of treading new and unexplored ground. Moss did that in the brevity of a floor demo, and will certainly do so - to an even grander extent -when the full game releases.
Experience this Simultaneous-Duo Dungeoner this Holiday season -- you owe it to yourself.