Developer: Hollow Tree Games
Publisher: Plug In Digital
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Review copy provided
If it wasn’t for Shape of the World, your boy might have launched his controller at the TV in a fit of fury. It was late at night, and I had been on the receiving end of one of the most brutal Third Strike losing streaks in history. The salt was flowing and the rage appeared to be unabated, but I remembered that I had Shape of the World to review.
According to the game’s blurb, Shape of the World is designed to offer a relaxing experience that alleviates tension. No threats, no pressure, just you exploring a mysterious world that changes as you move from area to area. In other words, it’s a walking simulator, so if those aren’t your kind of games, feel free to check out now.
But something wonderful happened after just a few minutes of play. After exploring a bland valley for little while, the game opens up to a lush coastline filled with vibrancy and wonder, and suddenly all the anger and vitriol that was aimed towards the online denizens of Street Fighter just melted away. My controller was spared.
If you’re looking for a complex narrative with deep conversations regarding the meaning of existence, Shape of the World doesn’t have that either. You wake up in a strange environment that changes as you interact with it. Finding yourself drawn to the different monuments and beacons that litter the landscape, you press on, finding more monuments, vivid tones and some weird creatures along the way.
The main point of Shape of the World is to soak in the beautiful art style that utilises various colour schemes to display the world in new ways. The style itself is extremely minimalist, with only about two or three colours present on screen at any one time, but the result is astounding. There are regular moments during your journey that’ll take your breath away.
The soundtrack is also incredible, adapting just like the world depending on your actions. There’s no epic orchestral score or some bombastic electric guitar, just some soothing tones designed to produce feelings of calm. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.
As it’s a walking simulator of sorts, the bulk of the game is spent exploring different areas, activating monuments to open the path forward. That path, which is always a staircase, usually takes you on a whistle stop tour of the area, allowing you bask in the glory of the game’s wonderful graphics.
It’s quite a formulaic procedure, but one that’s mitigated by the ever changing environment that you’re exploring. Instead of treating the discovery of a new monument with apathy because you’ve already seen about 20 others, you become enthusiastic to find out where this journey will take you next.
One of the key selling points for Shape of the World is the semi-procedural natures of the landscape. Though the basic world remains the same across playthroughs, parts of the world will only reveal themselves once you make your way towards them, and different natural occurrences such as creatures and foliage are completely random, changing with each pass.
In theory, this works to the game’s benefit, as it almost guarantees that one player’s journey through the world will be different from another. For us, new playthroughs did reveal new elements in the environment that were missed first time around, but it’ll be up to the general populace to discover how wildly the game can differ.
The overall journey loses its way during the last couple of chapters, as the game trades sprawling environments for tight, underwater caves and a mountain climb that leaves very little room to conduct your own trek. In these chapters more than the others, it feels like you’re forced down the path the creators have designated rather than forging your own path.
That being said, the final chapter and ending are brilliant in their feel good nature. No spoilers, because that would be an awful thing to do, but it really does feel like both a culmination and a celebration of your whole journey.
Shape of the World does stay true to the genre, as the game only takes about an hour to complete. There are seeds to collect and achievements tied to completing the game a few times in different ways, so multiple playthroughs are encouraged, but for some gamers, the short run time could be a dealbreaker.
Still, even though the time you’ll spend with Shape of the World is brief, the mark it’ll make on you will last much longer. If you’re even just a little bit curious as to what this game is all about, give it a try. It might even save you from having to buy a new controller.
Shape of the World is available right now on PS4 and Steam, and will be available tomorrow (June 6th) on Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch.