Developer: White Birds Productions
Release Date: April 25, 2006
Paradise is the latest adventure title by Benoit Sokal of Syberia fame. It starts off the player as a young woman stricken with amnesia. This is a bummer, since she currently finds herself stranded in the remote African nation of Maurania. You have no particular idea who you are, and the only clues at the beginning of the game are that you were in a plane that was shot down, and found among your possessions was a book with the name Ann Smith. The setup is great, with a mysterious African country and an amnesiac protagonist. However, despite these advantages, Paradise ends up falling short.
One area where this offering goes above and beyond, however, is the way that Maurania itself is represented to the gamer. It is a living, breathing country with its own villages, citizens, and flag. There is even a web site about the country which you can access within the game. Aside from this, your journal details some of the flora and fauna of the country, and it proves to be a rather unique selection. I was deeply impressed with all of the little touches that went into making this title both unique and realistic.
With that perk being mentioned, I have to now talk about the single worst part of Paradise: the interactivity. The game is fairly beautiful in most areas, but it won't matter, as most of these locales are just empty screens that are only good for walking through. Areas that are integral to the game are hard to come by, and they are sometimes out of the way. The items you can actually interact with are extremely low, leaving only the bare minimum of non-NPC actions.
Finding the items and clues within this game is a challenging task. The main way to obtain something is by pixel-hunting for it, scanning the screen with the mouse until the cursor changes shape. Occasionally, the clue can be in a location that blends right into the background, so the section appears to be all one color. Further deepening the frustration is the cursor, which tends to lag; you can swiftly move it over a clue, but it will not highlight or change shape in a timely manner.
Paradise has its fair share of puzzles, if you like that sort of thing. You must fetch items for people, find the correct order in some mundane task, or do a combination of both. A good example can be found early in the game, when you must obtain honey cakes for a character; this requires you to figure out a puzzle sequence, which opens the cage that houses the sweet snacks. That is about the general level of difficulty involved in all of the puzzles. There are a couple of mechanical puzzles scattered through the game that are better implemented, but due to lack of visual feedback from some of them, they are also a bit of a disappointment. If the heroine herself could have given any vocal feedback during any single moment of the game, it would have been a better experience.
Another aspect that made me scratch my head was the leopard. During certain sequences, you take control of the leopard to basically jump around and interact with a small number of objects, but if you choose to, you can skip these sections altogether. Your character also decides to go in search of the leopard or set traps at certain times. That pretty much sums up the leopard's involvement, but the characters of the game, and the very game box itself, would have you convinced that it is a key player. The leopard is nothing more than a cheap plot device meant to churn forward the plot.
The main way the plot itself advances is through interaction with the NPCs through dialogue, which is a clunky system at best. A few times, while talking to certain people, I would be given responses that were completely unrelated to the question, or they mentioned things that had yet to take place. Additionally, the voice talent is extremely average and at times painfully devoid of personality.
Speaking of the plot, the most interesting bits occur at the beginning and towards the end of the game, with not too much in between to keep the gamer intrigued. Compared to Syberia in this department, Paradise pales in comparison. Watching Syberia's protagonist grow and evolve was a feat of writing, but in this offering, the heroine stays about as bland as her wardrobe. The only bright spot happened during the game's conclusion, which I have to admit put most game endings to shame with the amount of visceral emotion put forth.
Hands down, Paradise's best attributes are the artwork and wonderful cut scenes. During most of the game, the background visuals are stunning enough to make me applaud them for using a mostly 2D background. Even looking at a simple, broken-down truck is made better when it is represented by Sokal's brilliant art. The cut scenes are also well-executed, but at times, they suffer from a bit of clunky 3D artistry, such as clipping, especially when humans are involved. These problems arise especially when the characters interact with the background scenes where they exhibit odd movements or sometimes glide around on the ground.
This game really does nothing to push forward the genre. Its shortcomings, such as the aforementioned cursor-lag, would almost definitely have been easy to spot if the game had undergone an intensive period of beta testing. At the times, the cursor would also disappear altogether from the screen, forcing me to exit the game. Some of the items are also referenced by their programming codenames instead of actual names. In certain cases, these may seem like small nitpicks, but the last thing you want in an adventure game is to bring the gamer back to the real world.
With mostly bland story elements and tedious gameplay really bringing down the level of fun, Paradise fails to live up to its potential, especially when glitches interfere with the ability to properly play the game. Even fans of other point-and-click adventure titles will find themselves fed up within a short time. If you are absolutely enthralled with Benoit Sokal's artistry, or if you've played almost every other adventure title available, then Paradise should be a natural addition to your collection, but if neither of those descriptions apply to you, then tread carefully.
More articles about Paradise