Shape of the World is a game that we absolutely need. In the expanding library of high-octane action, competitive sports, violence and grittiness, we need something to break up the saturation — change the tune and alter the pitch — and bring serenity and relaxation. Like Flower and similar experiences, Shape of the World seeks to do just that.
Initially starting as a Kickstarter campaign from Canadian indie developer, Hollow Tree Games, Shape of the World had over one thousand backers and exceeded its CA$75,000 goal, launching into full development and eventually seeing a release this summer. Shape of the World is a procedurally generated experience that allows players to explore a bold and minimalistic world that grows and evolves as you navigate your adventure. It’s an insanely relaxing experience that I found quite comparable to Flower, Journey, and Proteus.
Shape of the World‘s setting brings hints of the American Northwest, with old growth and preserved lands untainted by modern technology. Navigating the world, there is a sense of accomplishment upon reaching distinct landmarks that serve, essentially, as progress markers, inspiring players to delve deeper into the woods and discover more of the game’s offerings. While it can technically be labeled as the tongue-in-cheek walking simulator category, where it shines the most is the accessibility to anyone and its pick-up-and-play theme illustrates the idea of simply turning it on and settling in.
It’s worth mentioning that the experience can be a little disorienting at first, as nature doesn’t completely materialize until you get close enough, where it’ll change once you pass. It’s to be expected with procedurally generated worlds, but it does somewhat break up the immersion when things just materialize seemingly out of nowhere. Despite this fitting in with the theme and idea of Shape of the World, I think the experience would benefit from slight optimization in that regard to have a more tuned draw distance, thus improving the evolving scenery without too many things popping up out of thin air.
Naturally, the integrated audio in Shape of the World would need to match the theme and mission of the journey, and it accomplishes this brilliantly. The music and atmospheric environment responds to your movements throughout and provides satisfactory cues that become your shadow along the way. It stands on the precipice of psychadelic, which adds a little more energy to a relaxing experience than I would have liked, but it works harmoniously and I have little complaints in this regard. I found that calmer tones would have been beneficial, but Hollow Tree Games have managed to craft both a visually and audibly satisfying combination.
Shape of the World isn’t an experience for everyone, despite serving as a wonderful step back from commonplace themes and genres in the industry. With no real objective, directional points on a map, or endgame, some players may find such an open-ended experience off-putting, as it fits outside the realm of a traditional video game journey. However, if neither of those ideas concern you, then there is a lot of serenity and joy to be found in Shape of the World as long as you don’t mind getting lost in a world and having the patience and imagination to find your way back.