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Analysis | Paper Trail – When Beauty Doesn't Pay

Let’s start with a poetic provocation: “UFA! Finally it's over!”? In Paper Trailyou will discover this as you bend time and space – or at least your computer screen.

If you think this sounds like guaranteed fun, just wait and see what comes next. Imagine catching the genius of Portal and remove all the charm, leaving only the puzzles, which are sometimes quite frustrating.

Plot and Characters:

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Paper Trail introduces Paige, a student who, after being accepted into university to study astrophysics, decides to run away from home. With powers to bend space-time, she embarks on a surreal journey.

The premise is intriguing, and the visual references are mesmerizing. Think of a mix of lo-fi girl with Alice in Wonderland – but without a talking rabbit and with more spatial paradoxes. It's all very nice, but without a rabbit with a clock telling you it's late, it loses some of its charm.

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Game Mechanics:

Folding the “paper” of the screen to create new paths is an innovative idea. The first few puzzles are fun and require thinking outside the box. But make no mistake, the novelty wears off faster than a one-hit band from the '80s. What starts as a charming mental challenge soon turns into an exasperating maze of repetitive, convoluted puzzles. It's as if someone took the idea of Portal and removed all the fun and portals.

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Challenges and Difficulty:

Paper Trail has a hint button that gives you step-by-step instructions to solve the puzzles. This is great if you want to destroy any sense of achievement. Even if you resist the hints, the puzzles become mechanical and emotionless. Solving a puzzle should give you a rush of satisfaction, but here you only feel relief because the torment is over. It's like playing The Witnessbut without the magic of Jonathan Blow and with the frustration of trying to assemble an IKEA piece of furniture without a manual.

Player Experience:

Instead of a feeling of victory, you find yourself sighing in relief. The increasing complexity of the challenges only increases frustration. Sometimes the game's art was the only thing that kept me going – and even then, I questioned whether I was losing the ability to enjoy it. Visual beauty simply doesn't make up for the lack of fun. It's like Journey would be replaced by a version where you just walk around in circles trying to figure out what to do while enjoying the sand.

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Graphics:

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Paper Trail's graphics are a visual treat, compared to other similar art, they look reminiscent of an Iranian cartoon from the 90s. The art is beautifully detailed and full of vibrant colors, with each scene appearing to have been carefully hand-drawn. It's a shame that these gorgeous aesthetics can't support the gameplay. The beauty of the animations and character designs make you want to get lost in this world, but the gameplay experience often pulls you back to a less enchanting reality.

Narrative and Setting:

Despite praise for the art and setting, Paper Trail's narrative fails to create an emotional connection. Scenes between puzzles, which require more doubling to advance, become tedious and interrupt the flow of the game. The attempt to force emotional depth through monologues and flashbacks feels contrived and forced. Imagine playing Firewatchbut instead of a gripping story, you just get letters from a distant friend talking about how cold his coffee was that morning.

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So, is it worth it?

Paper Trail is a game that promises a lot with its gorgeous aesthetics and unique mechanics, but fails to deliver a satisfying gameplay experience. Perhaps for those with a special affinity for extremely challenging puzzles, the game can offer more. But for me, it was a journey that was more frustrating than rewarding. Either way, it's worth a try!

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Pros:

  • Impressive and detailed visuals
  • Innovative game mechanics

Cons:

  • Puzzles become repetitive and frustrating
  • Increasing difficulty without emotional reward
  • Forced and artificial narrative
  • Cutscenes between puzzles interrupt the flow of the game

note: 6.5/10

If you love stunning visuals and don't mind repetitive and frustrating gameplay, Paper Trail it might be worth it. Otherwise, you might be better off looking for a game that better balances beauty and fun.

We received a free review copy of this product at

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Analysis | Paper Trail – When Beauty Doesn't Pay

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