Having heard literally nothing about Shape of the World before being asked to review it, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I fired it up on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I’ve played a multitude of other first person exploration games that have varied wildly in both quality and content, so I was interested to see what Hollow Tree games would bring to the table. Would I get to enjoy a rich narrative experience like Firewatch or Gone Home? Do mind bending puzzles wait to be solved, as they do in The Witness or Talos Principle? At the risk of sounding like a cheesy after school special, I’d only been playing for a short while when I realised that the most important part of the game was actually the journey, rather than the destination.
Shape of the World is a purely calming and meditative experience. There is no real objective, other than to explore the procedural and responsive world you find yourself in, at a pace that suits you. The landscape shifts and reveals itself as you approach; tall trees unfold themselves before your eyes and cute critters scurry about the gorgeous pastel coloured scenery. Some of the terrain hides large monoliths which, when activated, generate ephemeral pathways that expedite your journey. Should you choose to do so, you can collect seeds that are scattered around the world and sow a forest of your own at a whim. To progress through the diverse environments you must seek out spectral triangles that can be seen hanging in the distance at all times. Some change the colour palette, mood and ecosystem of the realm you’re in, and others take you to entirely different biomes such as a lush rainforest, a network of caves and a precarious mountainside.
Perfect Pastel Pixels
The most enjoyable part of Shape of the World would have to be the synchronicity between what you are seeing on screen and the absolutely beautiful musical score that goes along with it. Your wanderings will sometimes be complemented by soft, almost poppy synth tunes and other times by rich orchestral soundscapes. The musical accompaniment is also as responsive as the visuals, swelling as you crest hills and receding as you explore damp gullies, allowing you to enjoy the sounds of light rain and creature calls. Hell, even the title screen punctuates your selection movement with a serene tinkle of piano keys (a feature which I loved in the first BioShock). If you can, I highly recommend playing with surround sound, or at the very least a decent set of headphones.
If you absolutely must have something to work towards, the game does offer trophies for things like multiple completions, finding all of the collectable seeds, planting a thousand trees and even uncovering hidden monuments and pathways. To be honest I can’t really see myself scouring the lands for hours trying to find everything, but I would be more than willing to play through it again after a particularly stressful day. It’s very Zen.
A Softer World
Shape of the World felt almost like a guided meditation session, rather than a run-of-the-mill walking sim. Every aspect of this game was pleasing to look at, incredible to listen to, and with no time limits or threats present, fostered a sense of decompression. The game always encourages you to see what’s next and with my leisurely, ambling pace, I’d reached the end in around two-and-a-half to three hours. The only minor negative in my opinion is that the asking price of $22.95 (on the Australian PSN store at least) is a little steep To be honest though, I’ve paid a lot more for games that I’ve enjoyed a lot less and I’d pay that for the soundtrack alone. Now all I need is a PSVR version.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher