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Alternate outcomes pertaining to some of the world’s larger historic moments is certainly not a new concept when it comes to the gaming world. Paradise Lost, the latest title from developers PolyAmorous and publisher ‘All In! Games, focuses on its own portrayal of events revolving around the World War 2 era, descending players into the depths of an old German constructed bunker some years later. What follows is an unfolding story of isolation, despair, and quite a few unexpected discoveries along the way. The search for Paradise is without question a beautiful one, both visually and narrative-wise, but that’s not to say it doesn’t hit rough patches along the way.
Nuclear warfare has eradicated the face of Europe, shifting the country into a devastated and uninhabitable wasteland. Fortunately for some, underground bunker systems across the country have served as a safe haven from the fallout, though it’s never really brought to attention just how many (or few) have survived. The focus in Paradise Lost revolves around a young boy named Szymon.
Following the passing of his mother, and being left with nothing more than a photo of her alongside an unnamed man, Szymon sets out into the barren remains of the post apocalyptic wastelands in search of answers. Eventually ending up at another bunker location, he begins his descent into the facility disclosing the truth, as well as other forgotten and preserved secrets. The abandoned ruins initially present themselves as a site for weapon construction. However it’s brought to the players attention very early on that there’s more to the eye residing below. Shortly upon arrival, players are also introduced to Ewa, a young girl who’s seemingly lost somewhere in the depths of the bunker. Communicating via radios and speakers, Szymon is reluctant to aid the faceless individual, but really has no choice other than to trust his instincts and push forward in hopes of both finding her, as well as piecing together the fragments of his own personal agenda.
If you’re anticipating an action packed, enemy around every corner type of adventure, you’re looking in the wrong place. Heavily inspired by past formulas that have been present in titles like Close to The Sun or Edith Finch, Paradise Lost is a first-person narrative experience that unfolds its story and secrets through flashbacks, dialogue, exploration, and a substantial amount of reading from notes scattered throughout the levels of the bunker. The controls are simple, and for the most part function as intended. One major gripe for me was the sluggish feel of the movement itself. I spent a good five minutes at the start of the game wondering if I had accidently triggered a crawl option, only to learn that this wasn’t the case. Given the type of experience the game delivers, it’s not entirely a bad thing, but picking the pace up at least a couple extra steps wouldn’t have done any harm either. Levers, doors, and ladders scattered within the facility are about the only means of other physical interaction present.
Szymon also comes across ”memory tubes” throughout his journey, which can be inserted into several computers that are discovered along the way. These machines appeared to be quite advanced in terms of technology, especially considering the era the game takes place in. Interaction with the aforementioned devices reveals several recorded playbacks of situations that occurred within the facility prior to the players arrival, also adding finer details to the larger events that took place. On several occasions, I did have to restart the game to my previous save, due to picking up notes and being unable to remove the prompt from my screen afterwards. The bread crumb trail of secrets and clues will leave players questioning many unknown details right from the start. However over the duration of the game, everything eventually does come to light. It’s difficult to really dive into much more of the plot without dropping spoilers, but it does become apparent quickly that tragedy has struck this once thriving settlement, and that few to none have survived.
An appreciated level of detail and design is fabricated and displayed throughout the entire underground facility, especially when you descend into the deeper levels. Claustrophobic corridors riddled with bizarre machinery and other scientific tech do nod towards the idea of some means of experimentation once being present, adding to that sense of wonder when trying to put the story together.
Upon further exploration, players find themselves exploring vast, open terrain that houses larger structures and unfamiliar architecture stretching as far as you can see, forming what appears to be an underground city. Roaming the beautifully crafted areas revealed rooms plastered with propaganda, abandoned living quarters, even lush and glowing forest landscapes in the lower depths. Unfortunately, the experience from beginning to end is quite linear, only allowing and teasing players to explore smaller portions of this hidden metropolis. That’s not to say there weren’t an adequate amount of sights to see, but several times I would catch myself observing specific objects in the distance, only to never really find out their purpose or intentions.
About halfway through the story, I began experiencing a ridiculous amount of performance issues as well. Even lowering my PC settings to the minimum did absolutely nothing but add frustration as I attempted to push my way through several choppy and nearly unplayable parts (it shouldn’t take 3 minutes to climb a 6 foot high ladder). Fortunately, the available sights to take in during the adventure were more than enough to hold my interest, as the developers vision of this preserved and advanced world are by far the biggest highlight of the game.
Echoing sounds of footsteps and industrial machinery make up the majority of the background noises, adding to that sense of isolation while exploring. An eerie, calming musical score does chime in throughout the story as well, and blends well with the gloomy atmosphere of the adventure. Aside from the consistent engagements between Szymon and Ewa, the only other dialogue present is found on audiotapes and computers.
Paradise Lost doesn’t break any new barriers within its genre, but still delivers an intriguing (and quite short) experience. The performance drops that I encountered throughout final couple of hours, as well as the few bugs with the notes made the adventure quite unenjoyable at times. However, between the cryptic storytelling and stunning visuals, I was determined enough to push through to the end and find out what was really going on. And can say I was content with its conclusion. The pacing of the story is clever and well thought out, giving players only fragments of information over time. The finale does seem to set itself up for a second ending as well. However I don’t see myself pushing through to see how it plays out, unless an option for Szymon to walk a normal speed is added in the future. As linear of an experience as it was, there’s still a moderate amount of sights to see within this mysterious hidden world, especially given its lower price point. It features eye-catching and fascinating visuals, layered with a rich story, yet is held back at times from its full potential by a handful of easy fixes. Paradise Lost is available on Steam, as well as both Xbox and PlayStation consoles.