When you think about the things 12-year-old kids should be doing, what comes to mind? Playing Minecraft? Climbing trees? Getting into petty dramas at school? Exploring a long-lost Nazi bunker after an alternate-history nuclear attack that has devastated most of the world? One of these things is not like the others, but it's the premise of PolyAmorous and All In! Games' new narrative adventure Paradise Lost. It's not an adaptation of the classic metaphysical epic. Rather, it's a twisting non-linear adventure in which protagonist Szymon must uncover the truth of a faded photograph he clutches at all times.
If you're looking for frantic, high-octane gameplay, you won't find it here. Paradise Lost is a slow-paced, contemplative affair that's heavy on atmosphere and light on puzzles. You will find the occasional gameplay element here and there, but they're not really puzzles so much as "find the object to put on the thing" sequences. Make no mistake: you're here to enjoy an engrossing and emotional narrative, which is why Paradise Lost really needs to succeed on the story front. Will this be one for the ages, or is it best left behind in the bunker where you found it?
Paradise Lost Tells An Engaging Story
Being of the narrative adventure genre (often disparagingly referred to as "walking simulators"), Paradise Lost has a very, very heavy story focus. Most of what you'll actually be doing here is moving from A to B, picking up documents, and listening to audio logs that tell the history of the bunker. Thankfully, it's a history you'll want to hear. Paradise Lost takes influence from BioShock as it tells the story of a society brought low by hubris and pain. However, there's no grand political point to be made here. This is a profoundly human story, and it's a heartstring-tugging one at that.
If you're not a patient person, you'll be hammering the controller or keyboard in frustration
There are moments when Paradise Lost's story falters, though. It's telling a three-pronged tale, and although one of the prongs is extremely strong, the other two are somewhat suspect in structural integrity. To put it simply, Paradise Lost doesn't quite find a way to tie all of its three stories together in a satisfactory way. That said, it does resolve the central plot arc in a gut-wrenching way, so in the end, it succeeds. The storytelling here is relatively brisk, and although too much of it is relegated to the standard audio logs and text documents, they're well-written and never feel like a chore to sit through.
Atmosphere Is Paradise Lost's Strong Suit
Like all the best narrative adventure games, Paradise Lost's atmosphere is thick and heavy. You can practically feel the dust coming off the disused machinery in the abandoned bunker, and as things move towards a more human story, accouterments and items left behind give a real sense of nostalgic longing. This is aided in no small part by excellent sound design that highlights and amplifies noises, piercing the silence with creaking machinery or the crunch of snow underfoot. Paradise Lost is a truly magical game to experience on top of its superb story, and its visuals are top-notch too.
On the character front, things are a little less solid. The two main characters are protagonist Szymon and Ewa, a girl who talks to him via radio. Ewa's voice acting is excellent, endearing you instantly to the character and making you look forward to their next exchange. Szymon is naturally guarded; as a 12-year-old boy growing up in a wasteland, he's light on trust and heavy on suspicion. However, as things move towards a conclusion, Szymon and Ewa's relationship deepens and their respective performances give the narrative extra weight.
Paradise Lost's Gameplay Paints By Numbers
Your mileage will vary on whether this is a major issue, but Paradise Lost brings nothing new to the table in gameplay terms. It's absolutely the paint-by-numbers version of the "walking simulator". You'll open doors, push levers, and occasionally jump or climb to new areas, but these actions are always represented by pre-made animations triggered by a single button prompt. Otherwise, you'll just be walking for the entirety of Paradise Lost's running time (no pun intended). Unfortunately, the walking speed in Paradise Lost is positively glacial, so if you're not a patient person, you'll be hammering the controller or keyboard in frustration.
This is a profoundly human story, and it's a heartstring-tugging one at that.
That said, world-shattering innovation was never Paradise Lost's aim. It wants to tell a story, and it mostly achieves that goal with aplomb. It's just that gaming has unique strengths when it comes to storytelling, and it never felt like Paradise Lost leveraged them in the same way as, say, Gone Home or Journey. It's perfectly passable, even relaxing; sometimes it's nice to play something that doesn't scream at you to hit reflex button prompts every two seconds. Still, Paradise Lost's stubborn adherence to the most basic bread-and-butter gameplay approach does leave it feeling a little lacking in this area, even for its genre.
Paradise Lost | Final Thoughts
If you're already a fan of narrative adventure games, you need to put Paradise Lost on your radar immediately. It's atmospheric, brilliantly-written, and surprising. I guessed a couple of the narrative twists and turns ahead of time, but I was wrong-footed by how they were implemented, so even if you think you know what's going on, you may well be surprised. If you can stomach the snail's-pace walking speed and the lack of gameplay innovation, Paradise Lost is a great way to while away a few hours. Just don't expect any bells and whistles.
TechRaptor reviewed Paradise Lost on PC via Steam using a code provided by the developer.
- Beautiful, Heart-Wrenching Narrative
- Brilliantly Crafted Atmosphere
- Rock Solid Writing
- Looks Great
- Does Nothing New
- Extremely Slow Walking Pace