War. War never changes. Well, unless you can rewrite history then sure, war changes a lot. Paradise Lost is another alternative history tale but one that is truly fascinating. In a world where the Second World War continued and the Nazis devastated Europe, leading to a mass exodus underground, Paradise Lost takes a concept that has been imagined in some way or form (Metro 2033) but adds even more humanity to it. What we have here is what many would deem a “walking sim” but as we have seen over the last decade or so, the name does not often reflect great storytelling or compelling gameplay mechanics.
But does Paradise Lost bring forth a compelling journey of discovery, filled with meaningful gameplay and emotional depth? Or does it feel more like a beautiful gallery where everything interesting is out of reach and the gift shop is underwhelming?
Read on and find out.Story
Paradise Lost takes players into an alternative universe where World War 2 continued beyond 1945 as the Nazi’s developed atomic weaponry to use against Europe and its Allies. As you might expect, everything escalated quickly and Europe became a bitter and frozen wasteland by 1960, with most of the population dying. The Nazis did have a backup plan for such an event, by retreating into a massive underground bunker built to house them until the surface was safe again. It is always underground bases and safe havens with these crazy types of folks.
It's now 1980 and you’re Szymon, a 12-year-old boy raised in a post-apocalyptic wasteland who is trying to find an unknown man in a photo kept by his late mother. The only problem is that the last place this induvial was seen was within the previously mentioned Nazi bunker.
As you descend into the retro-futuristic bunker, Szymon will see the advanced, industrial technology created by the Nazis and the underground haven they had developed for themselves. However, as you venture deeper into the bunker, it is clear something is very wrong as there is no other living soul about. Aside from a mysterious girl named Eva who contacts Szymon through radios he finds on his journey. She is the best option to finding out who the man in the photo is and for surviving this industrial tomb.
Slowly but surely, Szymon will uncover the secrets of the bunker, from finding out those who took it over from the Nazis and the fate of its original inhabitants.A Great Concept, Flawed Execution
Paradise Lost has an extremely compelling setup and one of the most fascinating alternative histories for any video game. I love the detailed lore and series of events after the mass destruction of Europe. The setting for the underground bunker did give me some Bio-Shock vibes, but unlike Close to the Sun (which was basically a knock-off Bio-Shock), Paradise Lost is extremely confident and does its own thing extremely well.
The bunker and the underground world the Nazis had made felt genuinely surreal yet believable in many respects. It is an astonishingly beautiful world and one the left me wanting more to explore at times. I felt as though it has seen life and lost, but has plenty of small steampunk, industrial notes to make it something much more wonderous. While some parts of the bunker are cold and lack humanity in its architecture, there are some areas that are eerily warm for something made by Nazis. Weirdly it works on so many levels as you admire the scale and complexity of the bunker yet unnerved by its history. The bunker is eerily silent, with no sign of life anywhere, leaving you on edge for most of the venture.
But while the foreboding silence kept me on guard at times, I was keen to keep exploring and some sights really showed that the artists and those who crafted the environments, know how to create visually stunning and riveting worlds.
Having the perspective of this horrifying world being examined and explored by a 12-year-old boy looking for meaningful answers is also a bold design choice. War and death through a child’s eyes is never an easy thing to accomplish. While the concepts are strong, the execution is flawed in many ways for both story and mechanically speaking.
While this is a narrative-driven adventure and not just another shooter, (which is totally great) there is extraordinarily little in terms of gameplay here on offer. Paradise Lost is what you could sum up as a Walking Simulator but one that feels a little empty at most times. The type of Walking Simulator that that often makes people groan at the story-driven adventure genre. I am not saying there’s nothing interesting here but there were clearly design choices made which just harm the overall focus.Beautiful too look at and not much else
While the world is beautifully crafted and visually engaging, there is not a massive amount of meaningful interaction. You can examine a huge number of items, but much of what you examine (while lovely made) is uninformative, non-useful, and add nothing to the overall plot or world-building. I found myself being confronted by cool-looking Nazi tech and weaponry, yet it was noninteractive. Coming across a room filled with interesting objects only to be able to examine an old medal, a book you can’t open, or a Teacup kill the investment for me. Other games do a great job at allowing you not only to discover meaningful items but examine them in detail for clues or information (i.e The Medium, Bloodborne).
Paradise Lost does harbour plenty of files and photos but again they lack any impact or meaning. Files can be a gold mine of information or emotional storytelling, such as Fallout or even Resident Evil having some prime examples. What we get are files that don’t inform much on either world events or characters and photos which are rendered beautifully just don’t seem to have a purpose.
I found it extremely weird that for a game like this, the developers have intentionally locked off some areas. I came across multiple locked doors which did not need to be interactive, as no matter what, I could not open them. At least the developers did include some multiple paths which lend into some replay value and giving a sense of more freedom than the game’s many linear paths.
While a game like Close to the Sun may have not had the most original world, it at least had some fascinating items to examine, adding immensely to the depth of its alternative universe. But what you found in documents and items felt meaningful and different from everyday objects.
While the world and setup for this story are incredibly gripping and strong, there is a lack of depth or very simple misjudgment for what is important to observe and what isn’t. Again, I rather look at and examine items that mean something to the world, rather than a cup. Even a cup could have meaning but here, it's just a bland old cup. What if the Nazis have developed new materials to make everyday items out of? Maybe they couldn't access materials to make China teacups? Maybe they needed to make something else? Looking at it could raise interesting questions, but no, you're looking at a normal China teacup.
Even the Resident Evil 8 Maiden demo had a much more compelling examination of a teacup and that was a demo!
One of the few items I did enjoy finding was a D&D character sheet, this showing some humanity and that some Nazi engineers enjoyed a game of fantasy and orc slaying with their pals. Otherwise, not much else.My only friend?
Szymon’s journey through the bunker is a claustrophobic and intense one, not knowing what he will discover around each corner. But there two things that will help him out. First is Eva, the voice from the radio who provides some comfort and assistance during the journey. But someone Szymon is slightly wary of as well. And secondly, the developers, have not placed any antagonising forces or enemies or any hazards for that matter. Rather instead to have this be a game about exploration and discovery.
Great! But what you may also notice (I surely did) is the lack of anything else. I will acknowledge that there are plenty of games like Paradise Lost such as Firewatch and Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, which focuses on a lot of walking and a compelling story. Yet those games at least had some dynamic elements and gameplay mechanics which broke up the plentiful amounts of walking. Whether it was some form of puzzle solving, gathering clues, or something a little more interesting such as time manipulation, they had something to heighten the journey.
Paradise Lost lacks any real puzzles for the most part or meaningful events that break up the tremendous amount of walking. This could have been a great chance to implement something that would break up the walking and add a little more depth to the journey.
I have to clarify that I don’t feel games like this need combat, but they should implement meaningful game design choices and a mechanic or more to add variety. As mentioned before, other games in the genre have strong elements or a core gameplay mechanic(s) which add gravitas to the journey and impact while exploring or heading to objectives. While there is a strong story here, it is a lack of meaningful interactions and choices for the most part which results in this becoming a tedious trip. But overall, makes the journey feel a little too autopilot.
By this I mean you just press forward and only with a handful of moments or illusions to distract you from the bigger problem. Because what are the few “puzzles” in the game, is to look nearby for an object, or pull a lever, or wait for Eva to do the job that is needed to be done. I recall one puzzle very early on in the train station that took some thought, but this could be entirely avoided if you took an alternative path, which resulted in just walking. What is here in terms of interaction feels lackluster and overall adds nothing substantial to the game or the journey.But there is one thing which could have worked so well!
But there was one aspect which is interesting yet massively underworked. Szymon can find terminals which he uses to speak with Eva, and while using them, he can also find important information and listen to a recording of events that have already happened. There are also choices that can be made, whether to favour the rebels attacking the bunker or the Nazis.
As you may have guessed, there is a problem with this too. These segments again lack any impact or meaning as the aftermath of these choices is extremely minimal, often being a slight change in one of the future areas, such as a different statue in memory of the event. But it also does not make any sense to the story whatsoever. I was confused whether Szymon was making the choice, or if we were viewing what the AI system had chosen before. For a game with such a strong focus on the story, why implement this confusing narrative shift? Why not make it happen there and then? This felt as though the developers so desperately wanted some interactivity but realised too late the story would not accommodate it properly.
This could have been a great way to implement a meaningful moment and have the choices being made end up having much more impact. Such as having the events happen in real-time and whether helping the Nazis or the rebels could alter things massively. Helping each side can benefit you in some way to achieving your goal.
This feature just felt like an afterthought and one that the developers were hoping would make the game’s journey feel a little more substantial in terms of interactivity.Overall?
Paradise Lost is a hauntingly beautiful game with a premise and lore that would grip any gamer’s attention. Exploring and discovering the many layers to the bunker was fascinating but the lack of meaningful interaction, enthralling events, and empty parts between the major plot points, made this feel hollow and without purpose at times. The main story while interesting does have some massive gaps where little happens and what does happen is uneventful until the conclusion. The lack of any dynamic mechanics will result in most gamers going into autopilot mode and just aim towards the exit once the level begins. What is here lacks any substance and there are plenty of missed opportunities where the developers could have made an enthralling adventure that was fulfilling. Instead, we get a rather nice-looking game with all the right ingredients, but a result that would have been so much more.
++ Beautiful looking world
++ Compelling story with some great narrative beats
-- Lacks any meaningful gameplay mechanics
- The only interesting component is wasted
A Steam review key of Paradise Lost was provided by the publsiher for the purpose of this review.