A world that’s made as you walk through it.
Shape of the World is a gaming experience that feels close to that of reading poetry. Wrapping you up in the vibrancy of its colour palate, the movement of the ground beneath your feet and the sounds of its foreign world, this is a game that will stay with you long after the few hours of gameplay. But, just like poetry, it might leave you wondering what any of it was really about, and therein lies the real beauty of Shape of the World.
As the disembodied floating presence of an outsider in this world, the player’s movement determines how the environment is shaped, flowers blooming where you tread and mountains clicking themselves into place above you. Shape of the World is teeming with life, and none of it is ever still, down to the molluscs that roam the land and the huge whales that swim in the sky.
You begin by walking through a frozen landscape of opaque snowdrifts, led on by the faint glowing of a red triangle, the only object to see in any direction. In this small scene the game makes clear the simple mode of progression that will structure the whole experience: you must find and walk through the triangles.
From here on in, it’s hard to answer simply what else it is that you’re really doing as you explore this world, and what the point of it all really is. But a sense of momentum keeps you going as you move through the landscape, pushing you always in a new direction, through the gates to new creatures, new flora and a world that is always changing.
The looming presence of the triangles in the landscape keep you moving from point to point. As you approach them, these neon peaks transform into smaller gateways. Like something out of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, their presence is always magical. Upon walking through them, you can almost feel the push that you are given to the other side. And just as you cross over the colours of the world change too, and the environment appears slightly changed.
While the gates take you to something new, within the landscape itself navigating is made more interesting by the presence of great winding staircases, often produced by tapping a number of monoliths. This process is the only thing slightly resembling a puzzle in the game, as there is very little else here that wants to test you, trick you or see you fail.
Without any dialogue to structure what you are seeing the staircases go some way to sculpt your experience, framing your views of the world so that the expanse of it seems impossibly vast. As you rush along the staircases the sense of momentum returns once again, guiding you quickly to the best vantage point.
Not always traversing merely by foot, the three chapters also see the player take to swimming in the flooded underwater caves just as easily as we float out into the sky, propelled by the push of the triangular gateways. This switch-up of environments stops the game feeling repetitive, allowing you to explore what each new terrain requires of you. Yet, the underwater caves do suffer somewhat in their gloomy appearance, occasionally rendering it quite difficult to navigate among so many shades of brown and black.
Within these terrains, the only mechanic that truly tethers this game to the more familiar realm of ‘gaming’ as opposed to art simulation is the collection of seeds. Once collected, these seeds can be scattered throughout the environment to create new trees and shrubs. When you click on the trees you are propelled with a little push faster through the landscape. Moving through the forest is wonderfully swift with the aid of new trees, darting between them as if swinging from one branch to the next.
Prompted by the beautiful soundtrack and sounds of the world throughout, the presence of new seeds is alerted by a distinctive ringing and new triangular gates by a celebratory buzzing. These sound prompts keep you alert at all times, making the game a delight for both the eyes and ears, just like a relaxing walk in the outside world.
It’s a stripped back form of gaming that is sure to leave some bewildered but left me hypnotised. The last act of this innovative experience literally took my breath away, leaving me wishing there was more if it. But, with seeds still left to collect at the end of the game and surely plenty of areas left untouched, this is an experience that can definitely be replayed, no doubt growing richer the more you explore.