Par­adise Lost

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

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