Paratopic Game Review: A Short, Dark, and Serene Mess


Upon first seeing this game, it reminded me a bit of Jalopy with its appearance and tone. While there are quite a few experimental games out there that play with how interactive storytelling is done, Paratopic pushes it with its surrealism, non-linear narrative, jarring cuts in between segments, and inadequate clues to make more sense of what’s going on.

Those visual similarities to Jalopy made me want to play Paratopic, and what I got was something with a few things I liked, but also many things I disliked. While I had a pretty okay experience with playing this game, my thoughts on it afterwards were somewhat discombobulated.

Paratopic is a first-person horror adventure game that was developed and published by Arbitrary Media, which is composed of Jessica Harvey, Chris I. Brown, and Doc Burford. It’s own description reads as follows.

Smuggle contraband VHS tapes across the border. Discover the remnants of illicit industry. Prepare for an assassination. This is Paratopic, an atmospheric retro-3D horror adventure through a cursed fever dream.

It does give some clues to what it’s about, but not enough to prepare new players for what they will get to see upon diving into this short and not-so-sweet experience.

NOTE: This is a full review, so here be spoilers. You’ve been warned.

DISCLAIMER: I watched the review by MandaloreGaming before and after playing Paratopic. The video first introduced me to the game, then helped me make more sense of the story.

Premise and Story of Paratopic

I have to admit that I couldn’t get the premise and story of the game at first. This was mostly because it didn’t occur to me right away that it featured three different characters, but knowing that made a bit more sense of the non-linear narrative.

You play three characters. First one is a smuggler who got caught delivering VHS tapes across the border. Second is a birdwatcher looking to take a picture of a rare bird in the woods. Third is a hitman tasked to kill a man in the back of a seedy diner.

Perspective switches between them throughout the game and their respective fates converge around the VHS tapes, which are not what they first seem. You’ll find some clues at first as to what they’re for, then you find out later at the end of the game 

The twists in the story mostly involve the smuggled VHS tapes and what they do to people who watch them, as well as what they may be for. You encounter the figures behind the weirdness that happens throughout the story, and it may make you want to find out more, only for the game to end too soon.

However, each segment is abruptly cut to the next one without any prior warning or proper transition. Perhaps they intended the jump cut as the transition in itself, with the whiplash effect of suddenly popping up as another person in a different place and at a different time.

However, at least for me, this only served to confuse and make me unable to comprehend the big picture while playing the game. Maybe I could’ve paused and think about what’s happening before proceeding, but it looks like 

Presentation of Paratopic

Paratopic’s lo-fi PlayStation-style graphics and dreary atmosphere set the tone for an unsettling experience. While it does remind a little bit of Jalopy, the lo-fi look also reminded me of Max Payne with how faces are placed on character models, but without changing facial expressions. 

The sickly yellow-greenish tint that looks like puke adds to the off-putting atmosphere of the whole game, at least in the urban parts. It gets warmer in the countryside, making the game look like it was set in autumn. Whenever it may be in, the gist of the entire thing makes for a disjointed experience.

I do think the intent for this presentation is twofold—budget and imposing unease. If the visuals were able to be of a higher fidelity, it will still have similar characteristics like distortions, that puke-colored tint, and the ambient sound.

Gameplay of Paratopic

For most of the time, Paratopic plays much like the walking simulator it’s touted to be by most who’ve played it. It doesn’t have as much walking as Pathologic (whose name can be confused with that of this game), but there’s still quite a bit for 40 minutes of play time.

The smuggler introduces the game with his predicament of being given one last chance in doing his job. Meanwhile, the birdwatcher has a camera to take a picture of an elusive bird, and the hitman gets a gun to do his job.

Meanwhile, the controls are easy enough since there’s not much you can do other than move around and interact with a limited number of objects. The car controls in driving sequences are similar enough to those of Jalopy.

In Paratopic, the function of the gameplay is for letting the player explore the environment and understand what’s going on in the story. The jarring cuts between segments made it hard for me to figure things out right then and there. Therefore, for me, it doesn’t do a good job.

Final Score

4 / 10 out of 10
  • Lo-fi PS1-like graphics
  • Weird, dark, and serene in-game world
  • Unsettling atmosphere
  • Intriguing twists in the story
  • Some interesting dialogue
  • Fitting soundtrack
  • Can be finished in one sitting
  • Surrealism without direction
  • Story is hard to comprehend
  • Character perspectives not distinct enough
  • Jarring cuts between segments
  • Limited interactivity with objects

I don’t completely regret having played it, but I’m not that impressed either. It actually has interesting concepts, but I felt everything was done inadequately. There could’ve been more done to make it passable, but perhaps the only real upside is it’s only less than an hour long.

Paratopic isn’t totally bad, but it’s poor in much of its execution. The atmosphere and tone are what kept me from giving it a lower score, but the hour-long gameplay experience wasn’t that fun or compelling either. The end left me puzzled and somewhat confused.

I can’t confidently recommend this game, even to fans of walking simulators and experimental indie games. It does have some interesting parts and has an in-game world that can be built upon, but it will need a more substantial sequel to realize its potential.

But there’s a bit of a silver lining. This makes me want to play Jalopy again. Maybe I’ll review that game as well sometime in the future.

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