Review – Shape of the World

A world loads into existence – it is gray and bland and almost entirely empty. The only hint of an objective is an iridescent triangle floating above the horizon beyond the fog. With nothing but my controller in my hand and my dog on the couch beside me, I make way for the triangle. Aside from a couple small mice creatures, the world is bare, but the ominous glow of the triangle compels me forward. Despite the melancholic opening, I was excited to be immersed in the beautiful and vibrant evolving world showcased in the trailer. Unfortunately, my interest quickly faded.

 

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Gray and bland – just like my future.

 

Shape of the World tries to be a relaxing and stress-free game that focuses on exploration and discovery, but it fails to meet the mark. It quickly turns into a repetitive, boring journey that I had to struggle to finish – and note: the game only took me an hour to complete. The goal of Shape of the World is to create a game playable by anyone, regardless of their gaming ability, where players can get lost in an immersive and interactive world that grows around their very movements.  I admire the concepts that went into the game, but everything about it felt lacking. For a game about exploration, the world felt tremendously empty, which is a shame considering it’s filled with an abundance of plants. Unfortunately, plants and a few animals aren’t enough to make a world feel alive.

The animals in the game fail to come across as real creatures living in this ecosystem that’s growing around you – an essential part of creating an immersive experience. Most of the fauna are simply variations of aquatic animals from real life (jellyfish, squids, turtles, etc.), which is strange considering very little of the game takes place underwater; Yet somehow all these sea creatures are floating through the air with no struggle. The animals are cute enough to look at, but there’s no way to interact with any of them since they run away from the player if they get too close. The only animal I “interacted” with was this giant jellyfish that kept pushing me off cliffs. Kind of kills the whole stress-free vibe since it knocked me off the same cliff five more times (I was just trying to take a picture of him). Also, if you’re going to fill a game with cute animals you should at least give me the ability to pet them!

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Why can’t I pet the jellyfish??

I don’t want this to come across as though I hate simple games with minimal mechanics, I just think there are far better games that accomplish the same goals as this one. Firewatch is easily one of the most beautiful environments that I’ve seen in a walking simulator, and it also has a similar setting to Shape of the World. I understand that not every developer has the budget to create so many complex 3D models, but even the concept art of Firewatch is prettier to look at than Shape of the World. Some may try to argue that Firewatch’s plot dampens the beauty of its environment, but it still offers a free roam mode that solely focuses on exploring the map offers far more to discover than the entire game of Shape of the World. Again, everything that Shape of the World strives to do, other games have done better and even its original ideas fall short in execution.

Part of the concept of the game is that the world is growing and changing around the player as they walk through it, and I think there’s some beauty in that idea. Still, that concept would be better achieved if we, as the player, were given more control over the environment. It doesn’t need to become a sandbox game a-la Minecraft since that’s overdone, but at least give me the option to alter something terrain-related.

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Can’t say it isn’t pretty.

A core element of Shape of the World is that walking through triangle portals (pictured above) triggers a color palette change for the entire environment. It started off as an interesting concept, but it quickly became boring. I would’ve been just as content if the world remained the same color throughout.  The only other game mechanics revolve around touching luminescent rocks to create pathways and throwing seeds to plant trees. From what I’ve noticed, throwing seeds wasn’t even necessary to complete the game; it’s just a filler mechanic used to keep the player distracted from the fact that there are no real mechanics. I’m a firm believer that a game doesn’t need violence to be enjoyable, but it needs to be interactive in some way. Perhaps letting players feed the animals or pick up rocks would have helped achieve that goal.

Shape of the World, while pretty, lacked the character and substance needed to make it a great game, let alone a good game. A game with a core focus on exploration and immersion should offer more for players to discover and interact with than just rocks and seeds. The entire experience felt like I was looking into an artist’s portfolio showcasing various ecosystems in different color palettes. If you’re looking for a game that offers visually pleasing environments with no gameplay, then this might be the game for you. If you’re someone who wants an enjoyable interactive experience in the woods, go take a walk in a park.

 

Graphics: 7.5

The color palettes are on point. Overall, very aesthetically pleasing. The environments are nice to look at, but the animals are boring and dull.

Gameplay: 3.0

Minimal. The game consists of walking and throwing seeds on the ground Andy Samberg style.

Sound: 6.0

The music starts off pleasant enough, but it grows repetitive quickly. Needs a skip track option.

Fun Factor: 3.0

Being pretty doesn’t count as being fun, but throwing seeds at the jerk jellyfish and watching it explode counts for something.

Final Verdict: 4.0

Reviewed on PS4.
Shape of the World is available now on PS4 and Steam. Available June 6 for Switch and Xbox One.
A copy of  Shape of the World was provided by the publisher.

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