Publisher: All in! Games
Genre: Adventure, Mystery, Casual
Platform: PS4 (Also available on Xbox One and PC)
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 24/03/2021
A code was provided for review purposes.
Post-Apocalyptic settings are such a common backdrop in video games. Where it used to be a fresh and exciting aspect, it can often feel a bit overdone in the modern landscape. Paradise Lost, however, developed by PolyAmorous, attempts to set itself apart from those that came before it, with mixed results. This roughly 3-hour, story-driven adventure, has you exploring underground locales as you uncover mysteries of the past.
Paradise Lost is set in an alternative timeline, where World War Two lasted much longer, and the Nazi’s were able to defeat their enemies. When things began turning around, they decided to destroy most of Europe with nuclear weapons and retreat into bunkers, until they could resurface in triumph. Alternative timelines are always fascinating concepts, and it works well here to set the narrative up for more creative liberties down the line.
Fast forward some years and you play as a 12-year-old boy called Szymon. After wandering about the nuclear wasteland of Poland, he discovers a seemingly derelict bunker as he searches for answers after his mother’s death. After soon coming in contact with a girl called Ewa, he must now explore this vast and varied location in search of her as well. The story can be an emotional roller coaster at times, where its quality and coherency really does depend on the player. So much context and plot are told through letters and audio logs. Missing or skipping these will lead to inconsistency and loss of understanding. Taking the time to find them is the key to really enjoying the experience.
The plot is the key aspect of Paradise Lost and for the most part, it’s executed fairly well. The core events explore some pretty heavy and upsetting material and Szymon’s journey is compelling. As you read more letters and listen to audio logs, the bunker’s harrowing and brutal history comes to light. There’s a lot of themes and ideas alluded to here, but it can sometimes feel a bit messy and underdeveloped. There’s Nazi history, Polish resistance, retro-futuristic technology, Slavic folklore, as well as the mysteries surrounding the two protagonists. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough time to give all these interesting threads the depth they need.
5 Stages of Grief
One part of Paradise Lost that felt tacked-on and forced, was the connection to the five stages of grief. Each of the chapters is named after a different stage, such as denial or acceptance. Apart from the last two, there’s barely any real relation to this theme. Yes, Szymon will be grieving the death of his mother, but naming the chapters like this seems like trying to make a connection where there is none. As I mentioned, the last two chapters do have clearer connections, but even then, I wouldn’t have thought of it had the chapters not been named so.
Not Entirely Alone
At the heart of the story are Szymon and Ewa. I found the former to be a really endearing character right from the start. For one, he’s a 12-year-old who has no problem exploring an old bunker on his own. Even at 23, I would not have the courage to do the same, so props to him. Not only that, but he’s also cautious at times and genuinely sweet, where the context surrounding his adventure only makes you root for him more. As you really only interact with Ewa through radios, it’s hard to get attached to her in the same way. Her personality and playfulness do shine through here and there to warm the player to her.
Together, they form an unconventional but relatable duo, where their interactions and relationship are a staple focus of the journey. On the one hand, their connection and chemistry aren’t particularly believable, given how little time they actually spend interacting. It lacks the depth of a similar duo, Henry and Delilah, from Firewatch, but it still works when you consider them as two people banding together in a tough situation. It does help that the voice acting is surprisingly good throughout.
Overall, the characters, mysteries and various plot threads come together in the end, providing a poignant and satisfying conclusion. There’re even a few different endings based on certain choices, offering some replay value.
Exploration and Not Much Else
The gameplay is where Paradise Lost leaves a lot to be desired, unfortunately. Your time will be spent exploring the different environments, finding documents and audio logs, and sometimes doing basic actions like pulling a lever. It’s mind-numbingly straightforward and disappointing in a way. There’s really no puzzle-solving to speak of, except finding an item in a room to progress. There are dialogue choices and similar peppered throughout, but it ultimately feels like a missed opportunity. Instead of pushing this type of game forward in a creative way, it reverts to the bare minimum, feeling reductive.
This isn’t helped by the fact that movement is so slow. For a young kid, Szymon has the energy and pace of a snail. This makes exploration a chore at times. I didn’t want to miss any letters or anything, so walking around and checking just dragged. There were times where I accidentally walked down a path that would progress the story, so I had to slowly crawl back and check the other parts.
One thing that PolyAmorous absolutely nails with Paradise Lost, is the atmosphere. Right from the opening sections, I knew this would be a standout aspect. The first 15 minutes of gameplay genuinely made me stop and check if this was a horror game. Entering the darkness of the bunker with only a small lighter, noises echoing in the background, left me so uneasy and tense, it was brilliant. Playing with headphones made it all the more unsettling.
This excellent atmosphere stays prevalent throughout and swings from haunting to relaxing with ease. The consistently impeccable, ambient audio and emotional music in key scenes, really bolsters the overall tone as well.
A Beautiful and Harrowing World
Another unexpected highlight of Paradise Lost is the sheer beauty of the visuals and detailed world design. There are so many moments in this game where you just have to stop and take it all in. From simple rooms to industrial areas and grand shopping complexes, there’s so much to appreciate. The lighting and textures are brilliant, grounding the player in this surreal adventure. It’s not perfect, there are some parts, particularly in the distance, that can look low quality and stick out. However, it’s not a common occurrence.
There’s also a lot of great environmental storytelling at work. Walking around heavily lived-in places, notes and items scattered around as people left. In combination with the letters and audio logs, the developers have done well to bring focus to the echoes of the past. The bunker with its dark and troubled history can be felt throughout, but there’s also beauty and hope buried within.
I felt conflicted after my time with Szymon and Ewa in the bunker. The narrative can be a bit all over the place and suffer from pacing issues early on, but there’s also so much to like here. With the steps it takes backwards in terms of uninspired gameplay, it makes up for it with an incredible atmosphere and gorgeous world.
Paradise Lost is a game brimming with potential but never fully realises it. It begs to be longer and more fleshed out, but despite the issues, Szymon’s journey is engrossing and ultimately satisfying.
Rapid Reviews Rating
3 out of 5
You can buy Paradise Lost on the PlayStation Store.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.