Halfway through Shape of the World from Hollow Tree Games, I thought to myself, “Who is this game for?” It is a question that I have been struggling with over the past few days. There is no denying Shape of the World‘s beautiful visuals, fantastic audio cues, and intriguing world, but the game as a whole just did not click for me. For every awe-inspired moment in the 90-minute adventure, there was another issue that hindered my experience.
Those looking for a story will not find one in Shape of the World. The game starts with you traversing a bright white environment, searching for your next destination. Your goal is to climb a mountain while solving small puzzles along the way. The environments are large, lively, and eye-popping, with a distinct visual style. I found myself gazing at the mountain’s aesthetically pleasing creatures, and exploring on my way to the next destination proved to be enjoyable. I adored walking around and just taking in the sights.
Unfortunately, after a few sections, I realized that Shape of the World did not have much to offer. Not only that, I found it challenging to remain engrossed in the game’s universe because it always told me precisely where to go. While going through the game, a white triangular structure is always there to indicate the next destination. The problem with this mechanic is that the triangles are easy to find and are not difficult to traverse to. For a game that is all about exploration, seeing outlines to your next obstacle takes away from the immersion.
As an experience, Shape of the World is one of the most relaxing pieces of media I have seen in a long time. It’s very serene, and I found it therapeutic, especially since I was stressing out about a few things while playing. The mellow tone helped me forget about my troubles for almost two hours. That’s something most Xbox games have failed to do. As a video game, Shape of the World does not succeed in being very fun. Ther is no real objective, there is no narrative, and at the end of the day, it is just a game where you move around. You can find seeds throughout the world which help you build trees, but there is no compelling reason as to why you can do this. By pressing the right trigger, you can interact with monuments and trees. Monuments are used to solve puzzles while trees can be destroyed to move a little faster. There are achievements for destroying specific numbers of trees. I thought this would lead to some purpose, but I ended up disappointed.
What bothers me the most about Shape of the World is that despite the open nature of the game, progression still felt linear. In the opening sections, there was a sense of surprise and unpredictability. Later on, it became way too easy to predict where I needed to go. Hollow Tree Games created a beautiful experience, but the game seems to turn its back on what made it unique in the first place. Fantastic concepts suffer from elements that feel thrown in because it’s a video game. I’d actually enjoy Shape of the World more if we didn’t need to get rid of trees or interact with monuments to reach greater heights. Surprisingly, if we literally walked for two straight hours, just taking in the scenery, it would have been a more memorable experience.
Despite my gripes with Shape of the World, I must commend the team for the fabulous presentation and technical prowess. The game runs without a hitch. Throughout my time with the game, I didn’t experience a single instance of lag, and bugs were nonexistent. The presentation is top-notch, with stunning visuals, and sound design. The sound, in particular, made me feel as if I was actually a part of that universe. Hearing platforms assemble around you upon completing a puzzle made my ears happy as the sound radiated through my headset. There is such a calming mood to the sound, and it served to amplify the game’s relaxing nature.
Shape of the World is not a game for everyone. As I said at the beginning of this review, the primary question I have had since the credits rolled is “Who is this game for?” Honestly, I still do not know. Unfortunately, despite all of the things Shape of the World does right, I do not think it translates into a great game. The foundation is firmly placed for an experience full of exploration, but the execution results in a muddled mess that does not make much sense. Beautiful visuals and excellent sound design cannot make up for a run of the mill gameplay experience that lacks any reward. The linear nature of the game contradicts the encouraged exploration, and the confusing elements like destroying/creating trees do not really land for me. Shape of the World is an experience I would recommend for people looking for a tranquil two hours. For those wanting to play a really fun game, Shape of the World is not for you, and unfortunately, I do not think it was meant for me either.