Paratopic
Gameplay 6
Graphics 7
Sound 8

Paratopic is a game about smuggling VHS tapes across the border, but how it presents itself is more like a fever dream than a traditional adventure. To unnerve players even further, the visuals look like they are straight from the 32-bit era of horror titles, and the distorted speech sounds as creepy as can be. Even the story is split between three characters and plays out in disjointed vignettes that abruptly cut between each other. Despite all this and the short length of the game, it is a memorable experience and will definitely find an audience amongst certain players. 

Gameplay: Paratopic is short, baffling, unnerving and somehow also very compelling and memorable. 

Graphics: The 32-bit visuals look like they wouldn’t tax a Playstation One, but the frame rate is smooth, and the low-poly aesthetic really fits the game’s style. 

Sound: The soundtrack consists of silence punctuated by synthesizers and droning sounds, while the distorted speech is unsettling, to say the least. 

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Paratopic

Developer: Arbitrary Metric | Publisher: Arbitrary Metric | Release Date: 2018 | Genre: Horror / Adventure / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

The developers of Paratopic describe it as an experimental first-person horror game, which will be enough to send many players heading for the hills. Add to that the fact that it can be completed in less than an hour and features visuals straight out of the 32-bit era, and you end up with a title that is the very definition of niche. However, players who are undaunted by all of this and decide to venture into the cruel fever dream world of Paratopic will find a strangely compelling adventure that is as intriguing as it is unnerving.

Paratopic weaves a tale of three distinct characters, a fact that might not be immediately apparent due to the game’s abrupt transitions. The first character is a smuggler, seemingly hired to transport some mysterious VHS tapes across the border. The game’s narrative hints at the sinister nature of these tapes, with strict instructions never to watch them, adding a layer of suspense to the story. It is also the tale of an assassin hired to kill those involved with the VHS tapes and a birdwatcher who might just be someone who ended up at the wrong place at the wrong time. To confuse matters even further, the different vignettes between which the game is constantly shifting also do not appear to be happening in the correct sequence. It is up to players to figure out what on earth is going on and how the stories of these three characters intersect. 

Visually, Paratopic looks like something out of the PlayStation era, albeit with a much smoother framerate. People in the game have low-resolution photographs wrapped around jagged polygons for faces, and all the environments are foggy with a yellowish filter. In typical PlayStation fashion, all the textures in the game are also muddy, warp, and wobble a lot. All this makes for an unsettling experience, even for actions as mundane as photographing birds in the woods. There are only a limited number of locations, and they are relatively small, too. Some, like the diner and gas station mini-mart, are pretty claustrophobic, while the outdoor forest areas look much larger than they really are. The game actually uses environmental cues in the larger areas to shepherd players in the right direction. For example, the bird that the birdwatcher is trying to photograph will keep flying in the direction of the right path to follow. 

As creepy as the visuals are, the audio takes things even further with a dark ambient soundtrack filled with synthesizers and droning. The game also features full speech for all the characters, but everything is distorted and jarring. It’s even worse as occasionally, your ears pick up a word that sounds recognizable in between all the mangled ones. Once again, the audio ensures that even an innocent conversation with a gas station clerk feels surreal and alarming. There’s even a radio station that players can switch on during specific segments, and listening to it feels like hearing an actual talk show station in the background while drifting off to sleep and not paying attention to the words. The game is played in first-person, which adds to the confusion as you are not always sure which character body you are inhabiting for the vignette. The controls are straightforward, though, with WASD for movement and the mouse for looking around and interacting. The default movement speed is relatively slow, but thankfully, a tap of the shift key helps the characters pick up the pace. 

Since Paratopic doesn’t feature any puzzles and it is impossible to influence the outcome of things, it could be described as a walking simulator. However, unlike other walking simulators, it is a bit more interactive. Players can converse with some characters, complete with dialogue choices that veer off in strange directions. There are even a few driving sequences where players speed along a deserted road and have to keep the car from bumping into the barriers. However, these sections tend to drag on for quite a bit, and the only penalty for hitting the barriers is losing out on a Steam achievement. There’s no way to fail the game in any way or change the story.    

It goes without saying that Paratopic is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. However, fans of experimental horror titles or those who appreciate the work of people like David Lynch will definitely get a kick out of it. The game is good at maintaining a sinister mood throughout despite there only being one jump scare towards the end. However, players ready to enter this twisted world will have to make it through in one sitting, as the game does not have a save feature. This was done intentionally as the game is short, and breaking it into even shorter play sessions would lessen the immersion. Upon completion, players are handed their Steam Achievements, which is a different approach from what games typically do. We got just over half of the achievements during our first playthrough, which motivated us to go through another time. While nothing changed during the second playthrough, we discovered a few areas we overlooked the first time, and some of the conversations and story elements made more sense. Since the game is so short and open to interpretation, we don’t want to ruin anything, but paying close attention while playing will reveal some interesting facts about the game world.

Since Paratopic is such a niche title, it’s hard to recommend to players who are not into weird and strange titles. It is a game where you need to pay attention to every little detail to get the most out of it, as mindlessly rushing toward the conclusion can make for a very unsatisfying experience. Players who like to know precisely what is going on with the story of a game, especially after completing it, will find Paratopic a little too obscure. However,  those who can revel in the confusion and find joy in piecing together the delightfully twisted pieces are in for a memorable experience. 

System Requirements

  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
  • OS *: Windows 7
  • Processor: Intel Core Duo Q8300 @ 2.5GHz
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 630
  • Storage: 392 MB available space
  • Sound Card: Onboard Sound
  • Additional Notes: These specifications match the lowest tested.
  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
  • OS: Windows 10
  • Processor: Intel Core i5 or higher
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: GeForce GT 630 2GB DDR3 or Higher
  • Storage: 392 MB available space
  • Sound Card: Onboard Sound
  • OS: OS 10.10
  • Processor: 2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 9400M 256MB
  • Storage: 407 MB available space
  • Sound Card: Onboard Sound
  • Additional Notes: These specifications match the lowest tested.
  • OS: OS 10.14
  • Processor: Intel Core i5 2.7 GHz
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 6100
  • Storage: 407 MB available space
  • Sound Card: Onboard Sound
  • OS: Ubuntu 12.04+ or SteamOS+
  • Processor: Intel Core Duo Q8300 @ 2.5GHz
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 630
  • Storage: 407 MB available space
  • Sound Card: Onboard Sound
  • Additional Notes: These specifications match the lowest tested.
  • OS: Ubuntu 12.04+ or SteamOS+
  • Processor: Intel Core i5 or higher
  • Memory: 4 MB RAM
  • Graphics: GeForce GT 630 2GB DDR3 or Higher
  • Storage: 407 MB available space
  • Sound Card: Onboard Sound

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