The only thing I lost was the will to live
The term “walking simulator” isn’t a pejorative. It’s an easy shorthand to describe a genre of story-based games that prioritise leading you through a narrative like someone excavating an ancient dig, uncovering more pockets of narrative the deeper you delve. I’ve enjoyed many of them. What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home are two games that were unfairly derided as “walking sims”, with the latter basically kickstarting the genre, but their both games I enjoyed immensely.
From its glacial pace to its story twist you can see from the International Space Station, Paradise Lost feels like a parody of the genre that was crushingly dull to play despite its well-established setting.
In Paradise Lost you play as a young boy who returns to a Nazi fallout shelter, 20 years after the Nazis dropped nukes on Europe. You’re searching for answers about your family and why the once-thriving shelter now lays in decay.
The game establishes its tone extremely well in the opening hour. The areas your travel through are very detailed, there’s care paid to the way the levels are set-dressed and the lighting and design of the crumbling 30s aesthetic is well realised.
However, almost instantly, you’ll notice an issue with the game that plagued my entire playthrough and frustrated me to the point of almost uninstalling. You walk painfully slowly. The amount of time you waste holding forward, slowly lumbering towards your objective will be enough to make sane people stop playing the game. This isn’t done in the name of preserving atmosphere; I’m pretty sure I’d still experience the ambience if you let me move faster than continental drift.
It got so bad towards the end that if I saw a piece of the environment I could interact with and I knew it wasn’t going to progress the story forward, I didn’t bother picking it up because I had zero interest in moving this articulated lorry over to the next piece of exposition. At one point I shambled past an old Nazi machine gun and ammunition and was utterly disappointed that I couldn’t turn it on myself and end my suffering.
I simply cannot believe that the developers played this, or in fact that human beings played this and thought this was an acceptable walking speed. I don’t want to suddenly become The Flash, but it breaks the immersion somewhat for a crucial piece of story information to be revealed only for your character to lazily amble towards it like he’s walking to the shops for a pint of milk.
Also, the animations to do anything are so ridiculously stilted and overdone. Climbing up a ladder takes about 40 minutes and if you see there’s a 2ft ledge you need to jump down, feel free to open TikTok and watch about 50, by the time you are done you’ll be ready to see the frame rate plummet as you hit the ground below. It’s such an utterly horrendous movement system from top to bottom.
The narrative itself begins with intrigue and ends in cliche, with a vacuous dearth of nothingness in between. Early in the game, you’re greeted by a voice from far away, another survivor exploring the bunker. You endeavour to meet up with them, but if you’ve played a single video game in your entire life, or indeed had a sentient thought, you’ll know that things aren’t always what they seem.
The dialogue is only rivalled in its clunkiness by the movement, with both actors’ performances coming across like text-to-speech facsimiles of human emotion. Nothing has any emotional weight, reveals fall flat because they’re so obvious, and even the often interesting audio logs you find scattered are pointless because if you move more than three feet away from them, you can’t hear them anymore. I thought we learned this in 2007 with BioShock; if you have an audio log and it doesn’t just keep playing as I carry on exploring, you lose your game developer badge and gun.
The audio mixing is just terrible, important conversations were getting drowned out by the environment, making me have to squint my ear to even get a taste of what they were saying. This speaks to a game that’s incredibly unpolished. The frame-rate is often terrible, at one point none of the items in a room spawned in so I was free to walk around a brown square while the intractable panels floated in the air and during the game’s big revelation, a narrative critical item was completely missing. It straight up did not spawn the game’s most important story reveal.
The bunker itself is the lone star of the show. There’s a great atmosphere created where at any moment you think you’re going to get a fright. They use their scares sparingly and effectively. I could have potentially done with a few more avenues of world-building than audio logs and letters scattered around the place, but the larger set pieces do paint a picture of this Nazi Kandor that made me wish that a much better game was set in it.
Paradise Lost is an excruciatingly boring game. I literally don’t understand how you can execute so well on such an interesting setting, only to use it for the most turgid, unresponsive, buggy and dull game I’ve played in some time. Don’t be fooled by the screenshots of crumbling dystopia and haunting underground intrigue, because the moment the game bursts into death you’ll think that there’s something wrong with your controller or that you’ve started to see the world in slow motion.