Shape of the World is a first-person exploration driven experience. It’s more like Journey and Abzu than What Remains of Edith Finch. With abstracted visuals and serene sound design, Hollow Tree Games advertises it as “a 1-3 hour escape from work, anxiety, and stress”. It may follow through on that promise, but is it worth the $15 asking price?
Shape of the World
It isn’t. While the game does what it claims, $15 is too much to ask for a game this short and simple. Players that become immensely absorbed in the world may find themselves spending upwards of three hours, but most will be finished in under two. A one to three-hour length is usual for walking simulators, but Shape of the World isn’t substantial enough to resonate emotionally or spiritually. Its intentions are there, though it won’t make the same impact as the games it’s inspired by.
Shape of the World‘s premise is ruined through its “gamification”. The journey takes you through several biomes as you ascend a mountain. The sights and sounds that encompass the landscape are truly breathtaking. With its simplistic visual style, Shape of the World leans heavily on shapes and colors. Even the most jaded individuals should be awestruck by each scene’s beauty. I sometimes found myself staring at the abstract creatures, attempting to figure out what they’re supposed to represent. It isn’t some deep metaphysical experience that’ll have you rethinking the way you look at the world, but that’s fine. It doesn’t need to.
If it did, though, its “gamey” structure would pull you out of that experiential mind-space. Shape of the World falls into the same rut some of these walking simulators fall into. They claim to be immersive escapes from reality. Games like Journey, Abzu, and now this want the player to get lost in exploration, but it’s difficult to do so when progress is gated behind tried and true game design conventions.
It easily guides players through its expansive environment with signs that essentially act as way-point markers. Crossing these signs transforms the surrounding space. The most typical means of getting from point a to point b involves interacting with objects. If you’ve found yourself at a dead-end, it’s because Shape of the World inhibits true discovery and exploration through these interactions. Colorless or sparkly objects, typically found at a path’s end, must be activated by pressing the interaction button. After activating all objects within the specified radius, a staircase materializes, leading the player to the next play space.
It’s an uninteresting way of handling progression. Shape of the World has such beautiful abstractions in sound design and visuals, but with the game design so firmly rooted in the tangible space. This dichotomy makes it feel less like a passion project and more like an experiment. I wanted so desperately to get lost in this space, but the game designers made it impossible. Real life is dominated by routine. The routine of finding the objects to activate the next staircase shatters the illusion of entering a window into another world. Shape of the World plays it safe.
Shape of the World is fine at what it sets out to do. Its beautiful art direction and soundscape never failed to impress, but I found myself constantly pulled out of the experience thanks to its reliance on traditional game conventions. By the fifth time I had to activate a series of colorless objects to move on to the next area, I was ready to check out. At under two hours for the average player, it’s a bit much to ask $15 from. It comes recommended only to walking simulator fans for $10 or less.
Disclaimer: Review code provided by the publisher