“Who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe.” – John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667.
Hailing from Warsaw, Poland is newcomer indie dev: PolyAmorous Games with their new IP: Paradise Lost, which follows 12-year-old: Szymon as he explores the bowels of a Nazi bunker in 1980’s Poland (set in an alternate history world post WW2) after the Nazis ended WW2 by destroying mainland Europe with atomic weapons. Featuring some dark and complex narrative threads, Paradise Lost falls into the ‘what if’ area of revisionist fiction, exploring the horrors of the Nazi’s far beyond the real-world timeline. Paradise Lost released for PC, Xbox One and PS4 on the 24th March 2021; as always, I’ll be covering the PlayStation 4 version (running on a PS5) of the game, going over the good, and deconstructing the bad, while ultimately discussing whether it’s worth the £11.99 asking price (UK PSN Store).
When it comes to alternate history, there is no time period quite as prolific as the ‘what if’ scenario had Germany had won World War Two. From Robert Harris’ 1992 Novel: Fatherland to Amazon’s excellent The Man in High Castle, popular culture is fascinated with exploring what the world would be like if the Axis powers had won the Second World War; sometimes going down the route of parody (see the movie Iron Sky as a textbook example of this) while sometimes standing as a metaphor for the rise of right-wing politics that has steadily been on the upward trend in the western hemisphere over the last decade. In terms of gaming, none have been more prolific in this respect than the Wolfenstein series, with their previous entry: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (shamelessly plugging my own review here) being responsible for stirring up the alt-right in the months leading up to the game’s release in 2017, with Bethesda (doing something right for once) kicking the hornet’s nest with game adopting the slogan of: “Make America Nazi-Free Again” which was a direct parody of a similar slogan used during the Trump administration. Politics aside, these ‘what-if’ scenarios hold some of the best stories of contemporary fiction, whether from a book or a video game. One such example of a video game is Paradise Lost, from indie newcomer (albeit made up of industry veterans) PolyAmorous Games, which explores the world (post-WW2) if the Nazi’s had finished their experiments into heavy water and subjected mainland Europe to nuclear annihilation.
The game places you in the shoes of twelve-year-old polish survivor: Szymon, who travels across the post-apocalyptic ruins of Kraków following the death of his mother, in search of the Nazi bunker: Gesellschaft (roughly translates to society). The bunker in question holds the key to Syzmon’s mother’s past, as he is in search of a mysterious man pictured within the bunker with his mother several years prior to her death. In Paradise Lost, WW2 continued until 1960, where the approaching Soviet Army forced the Third Reich to retreat underground into retro-futuristic bunkers where they then unleased nuclear fire on their enemies in Europe. Covered under a blanket of radiation, the Nazi’s plan was to wait out the nuclear fallout and remerge in twenty years’ time to re-establish themselves as the dominant world power and continue the master plan of the thousand-year Reich. Upon arriving at the bunker, Szymon soon discovers that Nazi’s plans had failed, as the whole facility appears to have been abandoned for a significant amount of time. This leads Szymon to explore the eerily quiet bunker in search of answers, discovering the fate of the lost souls who occupied the place alongside the answers he so desperately seeks.
The narrative of Paradise Lost is by far the biggest selling point here, going down the route of not directly telling a story, but encouraging exploration to discover what took place in Gesellschaft. The bulk of the game’s narrative is tied up in journals, audio recordings, documents and visual aids which leads the player to discover the Nazi’s plans as well as the thoughts and feelings of the occupants that were ‘selected’ to wait out the Armageddon. Paradise Lost does a lot with very little, touching on some dark and taboo subjects such as mental torture, genocide and forced breeding (think The Handmaid’s Tale for a good point of reference) which paint a disturbing picture of what the Third Reich were doing to their subjects. Classical themes such as ‘Playing God’ and the ‘Hubris of Man’ play very much into the story here as well, showcasing the already stagnant morals of the Nazis rotting even further in the face of desperation. It has to be said that the subject matter of Paradise Lost doesn’t hold back when dealing with some of these issues, but it does afford the player a warning (through natural conversation in the story) to not explore a particular area further, for fear of what you will discover, leaving the choice to uncover it’s dark secrets down to player choice.
While narrative is key within Paradise Lost, it’s gameplay unfortunately doesn’t do much to branch out or do anything new. The game is played from a first-person perspective and could be described by some as a walking simulator (think of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture as a good point of reference) offering very little in gameplay variation outside of walking, reading documents and navigating the the games’ environments, this is all you will really do across the 3-4 hours you will spend playing the game. Movement is by far one of the largest issues here, as Syzmon walks at a snail’s pace, which can make some of the game’s larger areas a massive slog to get through. Couple this with weird button combos that are required to climb, interact and open doors and it leaves a lot to be desirediin the long run. Outside of the controls, there are some dialogue choices, but none of these seem to have any impact of the game’s narrative or it’s conclusion. Even though the gameplay could do with an overhaul, it has to be said that the game’s environments are a sight to behold, boasting photo-realistic visuals with nail-biting ambient lighting that really drums home the haunting atmosphere of the abandoned bunker. Performance is a bit of a mixed bag also, with a basic 1080p resolution across the board (the game was played on a PlayStation 5 for this review) with frame-rate stuttering along at 30fps, suffering with occassional drops to boot.
Overall Paradise Lost is a haunting journey into a ‘what-if’ scenario had the Nazis won WW2, showcasing a complex narrative into the downfall of man. While the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired, PolyAmorous have managed to capture something within the bunker of Gesellschaft, with its perfect architecture standing as a metaphor for the evil that had a hand in its creation. Definitely worth the £11.99 asking price if you’re a fan of a good narrative, but the game won’t be winning any awards for it’s gameplay.
A PlayStation 4 review code was provided by Evolve PR.