No one could blame you if you had already drawn the conclusion that "walking simulators" can't offer anything new and interesting. Yeah, this is one exploited genre. However, today I urge you to give it one more chance. Paradise Lost can change your views.
Before we proceed, I’d like you to watch a short trailer of this game. It’ll help you understand why I perceive it as something unique:
Have the word “Fallout” crossed your mind? Or maybe “Wolfenstein”? At least one of these should have. It’s not just the trailer. The whole game is filled with this very special atmosphere of an alternate reality where Nazis didn’t lose World War II in 1945, but instead kept fighting for another 15 years or so, eventually hiding inside a massive vault just before they nuked the entire Europe. However, it was not Fallout nor Wolfenstein that I was thinking about when descending deeper and deeper in the enormous bunker. The game that came into my mind most often was… BioShock.
Rapture’s little brother
- phenomenal creative direction for the world;
- overwhelming atmosphere;
- captivating narrative that requires some deduction on your behalf;
- very detailed, beautiful levels and monumental sights;
- environmental storytelling at its finest;
- refined soundscape of the world.
- voice-acting is awkward, making dialogues sound bland;
- inability to run is sometimes a tad annoying;
- inconsistent framerate.
Talents at Polish studio PolyAmorous have created something astonishing. Seriously, the Gesellschaft (the German name for this vault) could as well be the successor to Rapture and Columbia. Just imagine it. Miles and miles of underground caves where a great city was built for German elites to survive the nuclear winter ravaging the surface. Of course, not for the entire society, but only for the selected elites (along with some workers/slaves). And not entirely for survival… but I’ve already said too much.
Anyway, just like in BioShock, we are visiting this monumental place, built for immortalizing humanity’s greatness, only to witness its decay and uncover the story of its fall. The main difference is that in Paradise Lost, there are no splicers lurking in the dark, nor superpowers based on genetics. Of course, there can be no such thing as combat in a walking sim. In Gesellschaft, there is only unsettling silence of vast, empty spaces and you, a 12-year-old boy who just lost his mother and is now wandering through the vault in a desperate attempt to find someone who could help. Add to that a suggestive soundscape, and you get a one-of-a-kind atmosphere; eerie and mesmerizing.
I’d like to emphasize it: the world of Paradise Lost is astounding. It’s built on a foundation of a great vision, combining authentic esthetics of 1940s Poland and Nazi Germany with some retro-futuristic technology. There are monumental sights to behold around almost every corner, yet even without them, the game is a feast for the eyes. Every room is filled to the brim with great little details that make it believable, memorable, and simply interesting.
You could probably beat Paradise Lost in 4 hours, but doing it so quickly would be a grave mistake. This game doesn’t let you run, the protagonist can only walk – and there is a good reason for it. All those details are there not only for your viewing pleasure – they’re important parts of the narrative. Paradise Lost won’t give you all facts on a platter, you have to carefully search for them in the environment.
Read the documents, listen to the recordings, move slowly, and look around on every step. Then, and only then, you’ll have the chance to understand what happened in the bunker (if you connect all the dots correctly, that is). It could even take more than one playthrough to gather all the evidence, as there are branching paths and choices in the dialogue (different endings too).
As much I want to praise it, I must also note that Paradise Lost has flaws, unfortunately. The biggest issue is voice acting. It may sound strange in reference to the game about a lonely boy exploring an abandoned bunker, but believe me, the game relies heavily on spoken language. The developer made a questionable choice here, hiring Polish actors to read lines in English, even though the story takes place in Poland and all voiced characters are Polish (not to mention a great dose of untranslated text in Polish and German shown on textures and included in the environment).
The result is awkward. The cast sometimes seems to struggle with the foreign language, so the dialogue often (not always) sounds bland and emotionless. Single lines spoken in Polish (such as curses, prayers) only amplify the dissonance and seem to prove the game would indeed benefit from the actors using their native language all the time. It could also strengthen the atmosphere. However, I understand that the budget was strictly limited, and the creators wanted to appeal to players from all over the world.
Other issues are minor in comparison to voice acting. The game could use a patch or two to improve its performance. My testing platform was equipped with Core i5-9400, 16 GB RAM, and GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB, and I’ve experienced regular frame drops on Very High and Ultra settings (from 60 to 30 FPS, sometimes lower). Fortunately, changing settings to High greatly improved the framerate without significant loss of quality. I’ve encountered a few glitched animations as well. Speaking of patches, I’d like also to see features such as adding a timer for dialogue choices (sometimes, you have just a few seconds to decide, and there is no way to tell how much) and a journal that keeps all found documents and recordings.
What you see is what you get
The rest of the traits of Paradise Lost that should be discussed is directly connected to the whole genre of “walking simulators”. Those titles usually don’t offer advanced interactions or challenging gameplay, not even puzzles, despite being derived from adventure games. Instead, they emphasize exploration and narrative. Paradise Lost is faithful to this convention, like it or not.
Pressing buttons and opening doors or drawers with a dull “minigame” are the most sophisticated forms of gameplay you’ll find here. You should also be aware that all actions are performed very slowly. I said earlier that there is a good reason for this sluggishness, but I must admit that, at times, I wished there was an option to run.
A foundation for something more
Let’s conclude. If captivating story and fascinating world are the most important things you seek in a video game, then Paradise Lost is a must-have for you (the same applies if you simply like walking sims). Otherwise… well, I encourage you to give this title a try, nonetheless. The team at PolyAmorous has created a groundbreaking vision, one of the best virtual worlds I’ve ever explored. I believe it deserves to be recognized, even if there is barely any gameplay. Who knows, maybe we could revisit this grand setting in another genre if Paradise Lost turns out to be a great commercial success?
Christopher Mysiak | Gamepressure.com