Title: Paradise Lost
Release Date: March 24th 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: All in! Games
Genre: Walking simulator
There are numerous ambitious titles in gaming, but it takes a special kind of aspiration for a developer to have a title share its name with one of the most influential literary works of the western world.
However, Paradise Lost by developer PolyAmorous and publisher All in! Games share very little with Milton’s epic poem aside from arguably light metaphors, but they double down on ambition with some heavy subject matter and world-building. While not all moments are executed perfectly, Paradise Lost does provide an overall engaging and depressing narrative.
Paradise Lost takes place in an alternate future where World War II raged on for an additional 20 years until the Nazi party nuked the majority of Europe. With the continent becoming a radiation wasteland, many civilizations were forced underground.
You play as Szymon in the early 80s, searching for answers to questions surrounding his mother. As you explore the Polish bunker, you are taken further down to its depths, uncovering the mix of societies that had previously lived there.
Each chapter is broken into sections named after and representing the stages of grief. Early on, there is little narration or explanation given for your journey. As you walk through abandoned stations, you will find little notes and journals that flesh out the world and give you hints of what led to your current surroundings appearing the way they do.
Some of these get pretty dark as they are from individuals on both sides of the war, with some appearing morally grey or in between. Those that are fans of history will undoubtedly key into certain objects or events presented, and if you’re like me will be fascinated to see how this timeline deviates from our real-world one.
Also, there is a surprising amount of plaques and posters in German without any translation. Some of these almost feel like little Easter eggs for those that understand the language. And while I doubt it will make much difference to the average player, it’s neat that it was included.
Along with these notes, my favorite part of Paradise Lost is the environments you explore. As gloomy as things are, they are also beautifully designed. Giant statues and art designs from the 1940s transition smoothly into fictional in-world technology seamlessly.
Propaganda posters seem real as they litter the underground world. On top of this, the cavern dwellings are worn down, lived in, and full of decay. It really helped to pique my interest and motivated me to explore or just simply take in the sights.
Unfortunately, around the end of chapter 2 until the last chapter of the game, the default visual settings become insanely dark. You can go in and alter the settings, but I did have a bit of trouble finding the right balance for that as well. It makes sense that things would get darker with the setting being underground, but there were plenty of times I couldn’t see what was in front of me.
Luckily near the final stretch, I was able to find a setting that seemed to work in most situations. This is tricky to criticize because individuals have different displays that can affect brightness. Still, since I’ve never encountered it on any other title, it seems the issue is more on Paradise Lost’s part. Hopefully, an update to the game would be enough to resolve any issue.
That being said, these bleak stages lend to the overwhelming, depressing nature of Paradise Lost. At times it can almost feel claustrophobic and strangely had me on guard most of the playthrough as if a jump scare was possible at any moment. It’s not a horror game in the traditional sense, but the atrocities of the war and its impact is seen or hinted at throughout are indeed horrific.
Most things help with this feeling, with a few exceptions. Without giving heavy spoilers, some voice acting and interactions come near the end of the first chapter and continue throughout the rest of the game.
The dialogue itself is fine, but unfortunately, the delivery of the lines from most actors doesn’t really feel authentic. To the actors’ credit, it doesn’t seem like English is their first language, but sadly there are no other voice options to choose from. If the actors are Polish, it would have felt even more immersive, having that option to choose from with subtitles. And unfortunately, It did affect some key story moments for me.
Along your journey when are given some slight moral dilemmas and communication choices. While some major ones incentivize you to have multiple playthroughs, most just open up different dialogue options and affect your relationship with the main character you interact with. There are even some scenarios that you can pass up entirely if you’re not interested in doing them.
Oddly Paradise Lost includes some of these moral dilemmas in computer recordings you find inside the caverns. The computer systems playback recordings of situations that happened years ago, but you are given control of how that history played out at various points.
Even though it’s interactive, these moments could be a bit confusing. I was wondered if this is something that Szymon was actually doing or had control of, or if it was breaking the 4th wall to simply give the player more gameplay options. I was also curious if this actually affected the narrative. If it did, I didn’t notice it on a single playthrough. While the changes might not affect the story, it still could give some variety in multiple playthroughs.
Paradise Lost relies heavily on exploration and immersion as players make their way through some fantastically designed environments. Sadly, some issues with voice acting and brightness setting can take easily take you out of that experience. Still, I was intrigued to explore this war-torn world, even though some moments of the narrative can come off as overly ambitious.
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