Developer: Sirius Games
Release Date: October 26, 2007
It's not often in this line of work that you come across something completely unprecedented — in terms of genre, at least. If Escape from Paradise City had to be classified into particular genres, then I should point out now that crossbreeds of RTS and RPG have been done before. Warcraft 3 managed reasonably well, and Spellforce had a fair go, too. Still, Escape from Paradise City is the first that aims more at the RPG side than the RTS side. For one thing, the setting — a crime-ridden modern-day city — is fairly unusual for the RPG genre, but I refer more to the mechanics.
EFPC doesn't borrow from Diablo and Diablo 2 so much as it drags them into an alley, kicks them in the groin, beats them unconscious with a baseball bat and then rifles through their wallets for mechanics. Three character classes (all of whom are played extensively in the story campaign) with different weapons, different abilities and different experience trees — sound familiar? I thought it might. One uses henchmen to full effect, one is a ranged combat specialist and the third is a melee combat expert, just to add to the stereotype. The RTS portion, on the other hand, is slightly underdeveloped and a little underwhelming. The three character types under your command are the player character (one of the aforementioned three classes), henchmen (who can be told to follow the player, guard a specific area or deploy a power) and gangers, who roam the region in which they were hired but can be ordered to rush into an adjacent territory. Other than the player character, though, you don't have any direct control at all.
The general aim of each mission is to capture every city district on the map, although the details vary. Usually, you have to kill an enemy leader, who lurks at the far end of the map, thereby necessitating the capture of every prior sector. Sometimes, you're tasked with capturing a particularly strong enemy sector, which involves controlling every sector adjacent to it, getting as many gangers as you can and then sending them in all at once.
On one incredibly irritating occasion, you're asked to capture every sector while babysitting a complete idiot who randomly charges off to engage groups of enemies on his own. Worse is that the ADD-riddled imbecile appears to pick his target at random, and at times ignores every enemy he meets until he reaches his target, generally resulting in his getting into a fight with 10 people while he's at half health (having been chased and shot at by enemies along the way), always resulting in his getting shot to death, followed by a swift kick back to the loading screen. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Developers, nobody likes escort missions. Escort missions dependent on luck and utterly brain-dead AI are even less amusing. Rare is the game that gets these sections to be anything other than annoying and infuriating, and games that make them fun are about as common as hen's teeth.
Astute readers will have spotted a problem (other than that godforsaken escort mission) in the last paragraph. Every single mission is pretty much the same thing: Capture every weak sector, attack well-defended sector, move on to next mission, repeat ad nauseam. The RPG mechanics don't do much to assuage this, as each mission has a level cap, and while your ability trees can make a difference in how you approach each mission, they can sometimes make missions stupendously difficult if you've picked a set of traits that aren't of much use at that stage. It's not as bad as it sounds, but the levels do begin to grate after a little while.
Graphically speaking, there really aren't many technical issues with EFPC. Animations are decent and smooth, the camera is easy to move and has a huge range of zoom, and the textures actually look quite nice. Admittedly, things can get in the way a little; clotheslines hanging in alleyways between buildings can obscure the view, and buildings don't fade out as in a lot of other games, so camera positioning is important. After the first mission, you're so used to rotating the camera to get the best view that you hardly notice it anymore. The one problem is that the game is set within the city, and the graphics get really, really, really repetitive. After the first three missions, you've seen most of what the graphics have to offer, and it doesn't change up much from there.
Audio is serviceable but suffers a bit more. The sounds effects are all solid, and the voice acting, while not top-notch, is enthusiastic enough to make up for it, on the occasions when you can hear it. By and large, the sound is based on location, and as the easiest camera view from which to see is a way out from the action (the player can, at his discretion, set it to a third-person view behind the player character), a lot of the voice samples are too quiet to realistically hear.
Yet, despite the flaws in the gameplay, there's something deliciously habit-forming about EFPC. Despite being unlike most anything else, it's not necessarily overly interesting — the plot is bizarre, starting off with the three player characters (all criminals) being blackmailed into cleaning up Paradise City by a shadowy government agency and devolving into supernatural tropes that seem incredibly ill-fitting when they first appear. The gameplay is a tad repetitive, and while "powers" — global abilities ranging from calling in a squad of gangers into an area, to calling in an airstrike in the late game — spice things up a bit, it's still not quite there. And yet, once again, it's habit-forming. There's a compulsion to continue playing, and it is rather enjoyable, despite everything.
Escape from Paradise City is a rather odd duck. The RPG elements make it easy to make things harder for yourself, and the RTS elements don't really allow enough control to be particularly in-depth. When it came down to it, the one thing Diablo really had going for it was the interesting loot. EFPC throws in some unexpected sci-fi tropes when it comes to gear, but no amount of nanobots can make up for a randomly generated +4 Triple-Headed Frost Axe of Improbable Stature, and with both a level cap and no interesting loot, respawning enemies get old really fast.
And yet, again, there's something almost compulsive about the game. Part of this, I suspect, is that it's fairly virgin ground; while it has a spiritual predecessor in Gangland, EPFC departs enough from it that they aren't easily comparable. Another part of this is perhaps that the level cap imparts a strange desire to reach the next level, just in case a new power will make things a bit more entertaining. Yet another part of this is getting to see exactly what the grayed-out powers (that you cannot yet access) do. An airstrike is an awfully compelling reason to continue on, after all. And lastly, part of this is, I suspect, that the title doesn't really do much wrong.
EPFC isn't a triple-A game, but it's a lot better than you might first expect. First impressions are low, with a slightly confusing interface, a bit of a low-quality feel, and, in a first for complaints in game reviews, incredibly low-res and blurry box art. Once you get past the first two missions, however, things open up a bit, and it all suddenly clicks. The real problem is that, while it's better than it first seems, it's not hugely better. Once the tedium kicks in, you're playing for reasons unrelated to the general quality of the game.
On the whole, Escape from Paradise City is not something I can easily recommend at full price. At a budget price, it might be perfect for whiling away a few hours in the post-Christmas lull. It's by no means terrible, and by no means as bad as you might expect, but by the same token, it's not as good as, after the opening game sequence, you begin to hope it might be.
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