Reviews Archives


Paratopic — A Short, Dark, and Serene Mess

Paratopic

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 

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

Paratopic
4 / 10 out of 10
Pros
  • 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
Cons
  • Surrealism without direction
  • Story is hard to comprehend
  • Character perspectives not distinct enough
  • Jarring cuts between segments
  • Limited interactivity with objects
Summary

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.

Learn about the standardized review system [here].

Got Feedback?

Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have on the comment section below.

You may also like/follow and leave a message on either Facebook or Twitter. Please subscribe to both the Avoiderdragon YouTube channel and my personal YouTube channel as well for more content. Thank you for dropping by.

Prey is an Almost Perfect Game for Me

Prey (2017)

There are two games named Prey. There’s one from 2006 that had gravity walkways and astral projection as a gameplay mechanic. Then, there’s the new one in 2017 that had people jamming surgical devices into their eyes to learn new skills, which turned out to be made from aliens. I got to play the new Prey recently, and it gave me the same feeling I get from Deus Ex, the Resident Evil 2 remake, and BioShock combined.

I’ve had more free time lately, especially with my mother getting back to (mostly) normal after a month of illness, so I’ve been playing more video games. While I can do more work, the added stress had me at the edge of a breakdown, so I needed something therapeutic. That got me digging into all the games I’ve not played yet, and it’s a big backlog.

Prey has a lot of things I like in a singleplayer game—exploration in a fleshed-out setting, survival horror, stealth, cool weapons, and an interesting premise. While I’d like it better if most of the NPCs weren’t dead, the only thing I don’t like about Prey is I didn’t play it sooner.

NOTE: There may be some spoilers. You’ve been warned.

This is a first impression post with initial observations and analysis.

It may lead to a full written review of the game once I’m done with it.

Premise and Story of Prey

It’s March 15, 2032, Morgan Yu’s first day at work in the TranStar Industries testing facilities. He does his morning routine, puts on his research suit, and boards the helicopter that takes him to his new workplace. He is then gets by the man who brought him into TranStar—his older brother, Alex Yu.

He then goes through some tests that looks more like a tutorial for babies, but something weird then jumps at the man conducting the tests, Dr. Sylvain Bellamy. A gas then envelops the final testing room and Morgan is sedated. He wakes up back in his apartment and the date is still March 15. What follows is Morgan realizing that everything is not as it seems.

TranStar Industries is a Chinese technology megacorporation founded in 2025 by William Yu, Morgan and Alex’s father. The family business dabbles in a lot of things, but their most notable tech is the Neuromod, or Neural Modifier, which is a tool that lets people learn new skills and abilities by injecting a serum through the eye to reprogram the brain.

The corporation owns two space research facilities—Talos I, a space station that orbits the moon, and Pytheas, a moon base which serves as the setting for the expansion pack Mooncrash. The disaster that occurs aboard Talos I serves as the catalyst of everything the player goes through and have to solve in one way or another.

At the center of it all is the Typhon, an alien species that became the source of the Neuromod technology, as well as what can potentially cause humanity’s extinction.

Presentation and Gameplay of Prey

Much of new Prey’s presentation and gameplay is right up my alley. I remember gushing over the screenshots back in 2017 when it was first released, but I couldn’t get to it due to life and work. I’m glad I finally got to it, even if it’s over two years too late.

Here are a few notes I have on some things I’ve seen thus far.

Prey (2017) Emails

I like how you can interact with touchscreens. Also, this particular substory gets a bit interesting.

Graphic Design

Much of the graphic design is similar to that of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided with its cleanness, but with a bit more neo-art deco typography like BioShock. It does its best in being as uncluttered as possible, which is not easy in a game that has a lot of text and lore.

But perhaps it doesn’t have as much of that distinctness that makes me latch on like Deus Ex: Human Revolution (as you can see from this web design). In fact, I’m watching a let’s play video series of Astral Chain for the Nintendo Switch (Woolie VS), and I actually like how it looks more than new Prey (I’m not calling it Prey 2).

Inventory Management

The inventory looks and feels pretty good, although the mechanic for moving items around could have been better. It’s likely a compromise Arkane took to accommodate console players, but I would’ve liked it more if items could be moved around with the mouse instead of the arrow keys, which forces me to move either my left or right hand away from its usual position.

Yes, I can do that easily enough, but it’s slower and slightly less convenient. Pardon me for being pedantic.

Prey (2017) Inventory

Inventory management in this game is a notch below old school Resident Evil in difficulty.

Character Models

You see enough NPC models in this game and realize their faces were most likely made from a common template. They look different enough in their character portraits (seen on screen when playing audio logs), but they then have the same wrinkled face with different hair and skin color. Maybe that’s because most of them are dead.

The only ones that look the most different are the people like Alex Yu and the guy serving as the chef in the kitchen. However, the stories you dig up during your exploration from emails, notes, journal entries, and audio logs make up for that physical sameness.

Skills and Abilities

One of the main challenges in the game is acquiring Neuromods to gain skills and abilities that make gameplay easier. Take note that while you may eventually get them all of you put all your resources into crafting Neuromods (and scanning all the Typhons to unlock all the alien powers), Morgan is still a squishy human being who can get smeared into paste by even mimics if you’re not careful.

Prey (2017) Combat

These guys are like vortigaunts in Half-Life, but way more dangerous.

Even on its easiest difficulty, the enemies can kill you easily if you’re not careful, even with all the ammunition and healing items you’d ever want. You can spam medkits, suit repair kits, food, and psi hypos all you want, but it only works to your detriment later on if you don’t conserve your resources.

Prey 2017 is a survival horror game with RPG elements, but you don’t ever become a god. Even if you can do everything, you’ll find it hard to fight the bigger enemies, incredibly difficult to kill a Typhon nightmare, and impossible to kill the really big Typhon at the end of the game.

Prey (2017) Neuromods

This gets even harder to decide on in Survival mode and higher difficulties.

Prey (2017) Hacking

Fuck this hacking minigame. Perhaps the hardest one I’ve ever experienced in any game.

Comparison with Old Prey from 2006

The trailer for this remake raised a lot of eyebrows as the shift of premise from contemporary Native Americans being abducted by aliens to fighting aliens in a space station. It was quite the tonal shift, but there being 11 years between the two games made it forgivable.

Prey 2006

Oh man, this aspect ratio. I played this back in the day on a 5:4 CRT monitor.

But the old Prey was more like a corridor shooter like Doom 3, all the way to the dark lighting. The new Prey is more like a metroidvania BioShock with plenty of side objectives in an indoor setting with much better lighting and interior design. There are still dark places in new Prey, but they’re a lot more sporadic.

Also, this space station is not dreary to look at for a change.

The addition of stealth mechanics, however rudimentary, makes gameplay in new Prey mode varied. Since ammunition and healing items are scarce, you’d want to be able to sneak past encounters if necessary. 

The one thing old Prey has over new Prey is having mirrors that actually show reflections. The trailer for new Prey showed Morgan looking at his bloodshot eye, but the actual game doesn’t look like it has mirrors at all. That’s a bit disappointing, but not a total deal breaker.

Conclusion

It’s not a perfect 10, but it makes a very good case as an 8 or 9. Perhaps what will make me score it a 9 out of 10 is if my next playthrough in Survival mode will actually make every major thing click for me.

The only thing that keeps it from achieving absolute perfection in my eyes is my yearning for more attachment to the non-player characters (like Danielle Sho). If it had even more dialogue options and other ways to interact, it would’ve been even better for me.

However, that would’ve added even more development time, which wasn’t possible with this game beyond what it got. Maybe the Prey: Mooncrash DLC will satisfy that craving. But for now, I’ll leave it here or this will turn into a 5,000-word post.

Got Feedback?

Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have on the comment section below.

You may also like/follow and leave a message on either Facebook or Twitter. Please subscribe to both the Avoiderdragon YouTube channel and my personal YouTube channel as well for more content. Thank you for dropping by.

Mulling Over Changing Review Scores

Reviews: Good or Bad?

Reviews on this blog seem like a farce now, or at least I think so. I try to make them as comprehensive and systematic as possible, but I also get lazy with writing each one and don’t do enough of them. When I think about a lot of the old reviews, I feel regret. In this blog post, I talk about rethinking my review process, wanting to change scores of past reviews, and coming to terms with being bad at this critique thing. (more…)

Avengers: Endgame Review — The End of a Beginning

Avengers: Endgame

One of the most unique experiences I’ve had in a cinema was the end of Avengers: Infinity War. The palpable silence that followed, with everyone in the theater wondering if the movie was really over and the Avengers really lost was quite something. Unlike what I feel about whatever follows Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I was actually excited about this one. I had not been able to write a review on Avengers: Infinity War, so I’ll make up for it by doing this one. (more…)

Holyland Review — Existential Gang Violence

Fighting anime and manga have played a big part in supplementing my fascination in martial arts over the years. While most shonen has some element of physical combat, I gravitate to realistic fighting with detailed explanations of techniques and tactics like in Hajime no Ippo, Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, Baki the Grappler, All-Rounder Meguru, and so on. This one in particular is no different, and it hits the spot for me with its level of detail. (more…)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review — Internal Conflict

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Nowadays, it’s obvious that Star Wars has one of the most fickle fandoms in pop culture. Putting movies out over a decade after the much-maligned prequel trilogy can do that to a franchise so beloved, yet so battered by disappointments over the years. The collective love is so strong that it borders cognitive dissonance, and being able to have something to say about a new Star Wars movie is the mark of a person wanting to be seemingly in-the-know, whether they do care or not. With this review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I shall add to that noise. (more…)

The Foreigner — Skeleton of a Black Comedy [Review]

The Foreigner

If you really want a serious Jackie Chan movie, watch Shinjuku Incident. Otherwise, this film isn’t that surprising for him at this stage in his career. He has always done action-comedy hybrids, so of course he would want to take some detours and change-ups at this point as he gets older and his body becomes less resilient to the wear and tear he has put himself through over his career. In any case, at first glance, I see The Foreigner as a bit like Taken on Prozac. (more…)

Dunkirk — Connecting Dots [Review]

Dunkirk

As with most media featuring World War II as the setting, I had to take a look at this film. There are also two Winston Churchill biopics this year, and I may get to them later this year. But whatever they may be, I’m willing to bet that this film by Christopher Nolan can still blow them out of the water as it’s perhaps one of the best treatments of a WW2 event I’ve seen in cinema thus far. (more…)

Spider-Man: Homecoming — Laying Eggs [Review]

Spider-Man: Homecoming

How many more Spider-Man movies should we get? At this point, I’d expect the webslinger to actually lay eggs, but that’s exactly what this film actually does as far as Spidey goes. With Marvel actually having a hand in Spider-Man: Homecoming instead of Sony just hogging it all for themselves, we finally get one that’s going to be a part of a larger continuity. The creative decisions taken with it were interesting, and the future of this Peter Parker is indeed promising. (more…)

Wonder Woman — Blows It Early, But Still Good [Review]

Wonder Woman

There was a bit of a struggle in writing this Wonder Woman film review, thus the long-ass time it took for me to post this. Not only was it because I wanted to do a review video as well, but also because I had to dig deep inside of me to write this without offending sensibilities. It was so tempting to make allusions to “premature ejaculation” in describing my viewing experience. It was not I who blew my load early, but the film itself. I sincerely apologize for being crass there. (more…)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — No Loose Ends [Review]

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

What I found myself thinking after watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was how much better it was than Suicide Squad. However, it was only well after I had been engrossed by the characters and how their backgrounds—established in the first movie—were expanded upon, thus making for a satisfying conclusion and an opening for what could be an epic third installment. While I still like the first one more for its cohesiveness, I do like this one for its character development and the neatness of its writing. (more…)

Logan — The Man Comes Around [Review]

Logan

As I like to call it, “The Last of Us Movie: Mutant Edition.” I’ve been looking forward to watching Logan since the first trailer hit. The premise and its thematic similarities to The Last of Us are what got me intrigued. I’ve had a general disdain for the X-Men film series over the years, but this one looked and felt different right from the get-go. I knew immediately there was something special to it, despite my friends’ warnings. Perhaps it was just a well-made trailer and nothing more, but it seems my intuition was right (for once). (more…)