Pawsed in Purgatory

HIGH The first time I ran around charged up with orbs.

LOW The abrupt and pointless ending.

WTF What does this French girl have to do with anything?


Purgatory games aren’t a genre, exactly, because they don’t have many unifying mechanics. Most of them are third person, many have platforming or adventure elements, and ‘shoot’ is rarely an important verb, but otherwise connections are rather tenuous. What unifies these titles, rather, is a structure in which proceeding through the campaign unlocks information from the past of the already-dead main character. Often the moment or nature of the character’s death is the big reveal waiting at the end of the adventure.

Although Paws and Soul wastes a little dialogue pretending that the above isn’t what’s going on, it is immediately and obviously a purgatory game, and not one of the better ones. The main character’s avatar in Paws and Soul is a wolf, and the main activity here is running around various pastoral landscapes collecting energy orbs and observing vignettes from at least one past life.

Well, ‘running’ may be too ambitious a word to describe what’s happening. The wolf moves very slowly, and only marginally faster when directed to sprint. On roads, and especially just after absorbing an orb, are the only instances when the wolf genuinely speeds up. The few times this happened in sequence and allowed the wolf to dash down a path were the only moments when I felt any joy in movement.

The landscapes feel like a bit of a jumble. The game starts in an autumnal forest with a relatively open design, then goes into a more imaginative glowing twilit landscape. The rest of the campaign oscillates along these lines, with levels set on giant floating islands and more conventional snowy landscapes and grassy fields.

As the wolf progresses through these areas it triggers little vignettes that relate the life stories of a man named David and a woman named Michelle. These scenes are tied to specific spots and basically force the wolf to come to a stop and stand around a while in order to absorb them, which I derived no pleasure from on any level.

The life stories being told are, unfortunately, boring and I never figured out why these people were being inflicted on me. The voice actors do their best with the material, but the script is plagued by the awkward rhythm of dialogue that has been translated rather than truly localized. Quotidian narratives and stilted speech can sometimes be saved by engaging art, but the vignettes are acted out by ghostly blue figures without visible faces, and the animations are basic.

The elements of Paws and Soul underwhelm individually, but the game is even less than the sum of its parts because it doesn’t cohere. The world design doesn’t reflect or inform David and Michelle’s stories (which don’t reflect or inform each other). The fundamental verbs of play are completely at odds with the way the story is delivered. It comes across as an ill-conceived jumble of stuff.

Further, the wolf can use its collection of energy orbs to help Michelle at various junctures in her life, but it’s never clear why. Paws and Soul warns that there is some cost to using the orbs, but it never clarifies what that cost is.

There’s some joy in experiencing the landscapes of Paws and Soul, but that’s about all that can be said for itit’s a dull, sluggish effort in service of two boring and awkwardly-conveyed stories that don’t connect with each other. Not all purgatory games feel like purgatory, but this one sure did.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Electrostalin Entertainment and published by Games Operators. It is currently available on PC.This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on a home-built Windows X PC equipped with an AMD Ryzen 2700X processor, an ASRock X470 motherboard, 32 GB RAM, and a single GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card (driver version 446.14). Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: As of press time this game has not been rated by the ESRB. Paws and Soul contains some adult situations but there’s no violence or lewdness. Children could play this with no worries and might enjoy running around as a wolf but will probably be bored by the story. I would rate it E.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has no essential sound cues and all dialogue is subtitled. There should be no problem. Subtitles cannot be resized.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls. I found that the controller did not work in the menus, and was sluggish to respond in play. I could not find any setting to invert the camera axes.

Sparky Clarkson

Sparky Clarkson

Sparky Clarkson grew up in the hot lands of Alabama, where he was regularly mooned by a cast iron statue. He played his first games on a Texas Instruments 99/4A computer, although he was not an early adopter. He eventually left Alpiner behind, cultivating a love of games that grew along with the processing power of the home computer. Eventually, however, the PC upgrade cycle exhausted him, and by the time he received his doctorate from the University of North Carolina he had retreated almost entirely to console gaming.

Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.
Sparky Clarkson

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