PC, PS4, Xbox One
Paradise Lost is about loss at both the “micro and macro scale”, according to Polyamorous CEO and game director Greg Ciach. Set in a frozen, post-apocalyptic Poland, it explores civilisation’s aftermath through the eyes of two characters: a nameless boy combing the wilds for his mother, and a woman, Eve, who resides deep in an enormous, decrepit underground bunker. Eschewing combat and time-sensitive mechanics in general, it sees you manipulating objects using kinaesthetic gestures inspired by Frictional and Quantic Dream’s work – rotating the cursor across to crank a handle, for example. The first thing we do in our demo is tend to a poppy, adjusting a heating lamp and pumping water through a hose. The sequence takes place in the boy’s initial refuge, a smaller bunker shared with his mother, who communicates with you over an old radio as she scours the countryside for spare parts. It’s an intensely storied space, one that – unlike, say, the decadent junkyards of Fallout or Bioshock – gives the sense of lives ongoing, even flourishing. There are meticulous drawings of flowers tacked to a boiler, Persian rugs thrown haphazardly across one another and a child’s alphabet in chalk over narrow beds. There is a coffeepot on a hob. As in Gone Home, the location has a magic realist bent, finely balanced between domestic nuance and fantasy: at one point, we flip the buttons on a slide projector to review a Slavic fairytale that soon proves to have a real-life import. Unlike in Gone Home, there is a strong element of danger. An electrical fault starts a fire just as we lose contact with our character’s mother. After extinguishing it – a simple sequence-based puzzle – we don
breathing mask and gloves and set out in search of her.
Paradise Lost’s narrative unfolds in two timeframes. At preset intervals you’ll be able to switch to the perspective of Eve, whose story occurs in the past and shapes the environment and events experienced by the boy. “It’s intertwined, not chapter by chapter or full playthrough by playthrough,” Ciach says. “Everything is mixed up and kind of chaotic at times, but in a good way.” The personal struggles of these characters frame, and are framed by, a grander ideological conflict between science and mysticism. The bunker in which most of Paradise Lost takes place was once home to two brothers with different ideas about how to rebuild the world; ideas made tangible by art direction that blends pagan motifs with “typical, Western, post-Nazi” aesthetics and retrofuturism.
“Depending on your choices you’ll create an information bubble for yourself”
“On the one hand you have somebody who wants to create a police state inside the bunker, and they’re very science-oriented,” Ciach says. “And on the other hand you have this free thinker who believes that Slavic religion is the key to everything. Those people are constantly clashing and their followers are clashing – you can really read deep into it, and depending on your choices you’re going to create an information bubble for yourself. You can have a completely different view of those characters depending on those choices.” The brothers themselves are present in “retrospective ways”, but it sounds like players will never engage with them directly.
And then there’s the theme of grief, which also supplies Paradise Lost with a narrative backbone. “We’ve read a lot about the KublerRoss model,” Ciach says, “and how most of us are going through those five stages [of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance] when we grieve. We have our own people inside the game who went through those stages at different points in their lives.” If this risks giving away too much in advance, it’s a powerful premise for a game that regards the end of the world as an opportunity for reflection, not bloodshed or plunder; a postapocalypse that engages with its own sorrow rather than merely carrying on the conflict.
Polyamorous has yet to sign a publisher, but is in talks with a couple of companies. It is looking to hire four or five further staff, we’re told
ABOVE There’s a touch of WhatRemainsOfEdithFinch to the game’s interest in luxurious media artefacts that blur the line between real and imaginary spaces. TOP LEFT Paradise Lost’s controls are a bit halting currently – you click objects, then drag the cursor inside a circle to manipulate them – but there’s plenty of time for improvement.TOP RIGHT The game is indeed directly inspired by John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost – the fraternal struggle at the heart of its story owes a lot to the character of Satan