I found out an interesting fact the other week. In broadcasting, there is a thing called a virtual channel. It’s usually used when TV stations cannot transmit a regular signal for some reason and are done digitally (yes, I watch many conspiracy programs…). You can imagine my surprise when I started the game and they activated channel 63 to initiate audio monitoring. From that moment, I knew this game was going to be clever – perhaps a bit too clever.
Paradise Lost takes place in an alternative timeline where World War II had even more disastrous consequences for the entire world. The war carried on for another twenty years until a large amount of Europe was nuked, creating a constant state of post-apocalyptic nuclear winters with subfreezing temperatures and inhabitable landscapes.
You adopt the role of Szymon, a young 12-year-old boy who has lived the entirety of his life in the wasteland of Poland. You make your way through an abandoned war bunker in search of answers regarding a man in a black and white monochrome picture. Szymon is further fuelled in his quest for revelations with the recent loss of his mother. As the young boy travels deeper within the bunker, he works through five distinctive chapters named after the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The chapters themselves very much reflect these themes with the surroundings you encounter.
The bunker itself is incredibly detailed and has many varied environments. At one moment, you will be stumbling down a fortified chamber surrounded by dark titanic concrete, which will leave you feeling claustrophobic. The next minute, you can be thrown into a wide-open space that you can freely roam and explore. The world outside may be lifeless, but the bunker’s passageways and rooms are weeping with tales and memories of people once gone.
There are many propaganda media posters, journals, and scientific documents scattered throughout the bunker to interact with. You’d think inspecting these items would provide a great way of storytelling and getting you up to speed with the war’s events. Sadly, more times than not, it didn’t add much value to the experience and felt more like an afterthought. It was further not helped because these items would belong to individuals on both sides of the conflict, making it harder to establish a connection.
Worst of all, moving around the bunker and its surroundings is painfully slow. Presumably, this was done to make you fully explore all aspects of the environment and really soak in the eerie atmosphere. But even to walking simulator standards, this didn’t build any worthwhile tension and actually made me want to get from point A to B quicker. I understand walking simulation experiences can require a lot of time and patience; however, in Paradise Lost, you never truly get back what you put in. So, this was made even more annoying when I would walk down a passageway, only to discover a dead-end, or worse, a door that wouldn’t open (why couldn’t there be a key lying underneath the doormat?). The only environmental interaction that would help make any progress was pushing or pulling a lever, making a lift or a room accessible.
When you’re not walking into dead-ends, you’ll eventually come across several microphones. This will initiate dialogue with a mysterious character called Ewa. You soon set up a quid-pro-quo agreement whereby Ewa will help you find your way around the bunker in exchange for a favour. This mysterious character effectively acts as a story guide and helps move along the narrative. It’s not that these two characters’ exchange is terrible, but this is the primary method the game uses to try to form a connection with the main character. It was imperative that the dialogue between these two characters was impactful, and it ended up being beneath average at best.
Hearing a muffled voice over the intercom is not the only noise you will hear. As you shuffle your way around the bunker, you will be exposed to ear-piercing sounds. These can range from the crunching of ice beneath your boots to high pitched static from stray electronics. This really helped build a certain atmospheric tone, which was definitely a high point of the experience.
This was not the only immersion technique used, as there are a lot of Slavic mythology references throughout. I’m no expert, but I was surprised at how many subtle nods I could identify, including a lot of powerful Slavic imagery. Without going into too much spoiler territory, the ending is heavily embedded in this deep mythology, which was interesting to see play out. I’m sure many references went over my head, but if you’re a fan of this type of thing, then there will be plenty of easter eggs and deeper meaning to be found.
Overall, the experience made me do a lot of thinking. However, I cannot say it made me feel much. I don’t think this was particularly limited to the fact that the game can be finished in under three hours, either. Gone Home, is a great example of this. An incredibly short game, but it provoked a lot of deep-rooted emotion. This is a shame, as I can respect there is a lot of great world-building with many references to discover. If you’re an enthusiast of this type of lore, then you will certainly uncover some merit. For myself, with little interaction with environments, accompanied by some passable character dialogue, I don’t see myself returning to this game anytime soon.
Paradise Lost PS5, PS4 Review
The game explores interesting concepts but never really felt like it achieved its true potential. Instead, you are left with awkward gameplay and an unsatisfying narrative.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Primary version tested: PS4. Reviewed using PS5.