Paradise Lost is an alternative-history walking simulator that takes you into the bowels of a deserted Nazi bunker full of creepy experiments as the young protagonist searches for any remaining signs of life.
Szymon, the 12-year old boy we’re controlling, sets out to explore the desolate wastelands of a post-nuclear winter after he loses the only person he’s ever known in his life: his mother. He doesn’t seem to have stumbled unto the bunker the game takes place in on accident though, he went there with a purpose: find the man who’s present in the picture he found.
Cue the fake surprised look as the game takes about 1.5 hours to finally confirm your suspicions that this is actually your father. Normally I try to avoid any spoilers in a review, but I’d be absolutely flabbergasted if no one saw this coming.
And that’s perhaps one of the biggest issues with a game that has such a strong narrative focus: you can see almost all of the story beats coming from a mile away and the big “WOW” moments Paradise Lost thinks it’s dropping on you actually fall flat.
That’s not to say you won’t be curious about what’s going on in this bunker. On the surface (or should I say below the surface) it seems like it’s just a hiding spot where people went to stay safe from whatever was going on topside, but the deeper you go, the more intriguing the place becomes.
The atmosphere is unsettling, to say the least. You’re exploring huge cavernous environments and it’s mindboggling how big the place really is and the feeling that you’re all alone in this location really makes you wonder what happened to the inhabitants.
During the entire first chapter, you’re completely alone and most of the story-telling happens through flashbacks and whatever info you can skim from the many letters* you find spread across the level.
*Sidenote: I had intended to record a playthrough for YouTube, but here’s a little pet peeve of mine: if the letters aren’t narrated on-screen, it’s very hard to determine how long you keep these visible for your viewers, do you expect them to pause the video? Anyway, that’s just a very minor personal remark.
Luckily, the 2nd chapter of Paradise Lost introduces audio recordings (albeit rare) and someone to talk to over the radio. At this point, the game starts to resemble an experience close to what Bioshock would be if you removed the combat from the equation, with scientists doing weird experiments without regard for human life and inventing new technology to suit their selfish needs.
One such piece of technology is sadly introduced too late: near the end of the game, the disembodied voice of Ewa can follow you around on a portable device while you explore where before she was limited to the available cameras and speakers. This decision sadly makes the majority of the game a rather lonely experience but it’s likely an intentional choice.
It’s a shame as I would have liked some form of constant companion telling me where to go in this linear world. There’s only ever one way forward (except for a single split in the road early on, that annoyingly requires a second playthrough for an achievement) and if you miss it, you’ll spend a frustrating amount of time backtracking.
And I suppose this is as good a time as any to bring up the BIGGEST issue I have with the game:
Honestly, the glacial pace at which you move through this world should change the genre from walking simulator to crawling simulator.
I’ve played similar games with a slow walking speed before, but I dare say that Paradise Lost takes the cake for being the slowest by a mile. It also adds insult to injury that there is a “run” button (if you can call it that) but it only increases your speed by about x1.2
Now the compound looks simply incredible (especially the locations near the end) and I’m sure the artists put a lot of effort into crafting these beautiful looking environments, but I don’t need a game to slow me down and hold my head still to look at the scenery, I’ll do that out of my own volition.
Looking around is coincidentally also pretty much all you’ll be doing. The world of Paradise Lost isn’t a very interactive one and you won’t even have to solve a single puzzle. The game only asks that you walk the linear path, press a few buttons, pull a few levers and be on your merry way. Luckily it handles that gameplay element decently:
It’s a simple approach for controllers, but I always liked having some sort of tactical feel when interacting with the world and Paradise Lost uses a simple yet effective trick: Press the Right Trigger, then move the analog stick in the desired direction. It beats just pressing A.
You also have to interact with a few computers along the way but I found it odd how you make decisions on them that are seemingly events that take place in the past, yet it seems like you’re interacting with the voices and environments in real-time? It’s never fully explained, or if they did: I missed it.
It’s not like you really have much of an impact though, I had one of these computers crash on me three times in a row, requiring me to reload the last checkpoint and I saw no visible effect on the world even though I made different choices each time. Your only option is pressing “confirm” 90% of the time anyway.
Sadly, it also wasn’t the only bug I encountered. There were also voice lines that were repeated and a weird visual glitch where I had black spots blinking on the screen, that only went away after reloading the last save.
I feel like I’m coming across as overly negative, even though there is much to appreciate about Paradise Lost. But I just can’t shake the feeling of having seen it all before. The story twists, the plotlines and even the conclusion: I may have personally consumed too many movies, series and games with a similar theme and that’s why this game hasn’t managed to surprise me. Depending on your own experience, results may vary.
Beating the game takes around 2 hours, depending on how lost you may have gotten and there IS an alternative ending to see if you play through it again. It’s just sad that the only important factor in this split outcome is the decisions you make right before the credits roll.
Paradise Lost takes place in a compelling setting and has a lot of beautiful locations to explore. But sadly it never feels like more than a sightseeing tour at a painfully slow pace with a story you’ve probably seen before.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Review copy provided by the publisher.