Paratopic is some fine low-fi vignette-y horror

My favourite sections of Paratopic are the road trip, driving through the quiet city towards the sunset and into strange lands beyond. After some of the things I’d seen in other parts of the vignette ’em up, the shadowy figures and cursed VHS tapes, it was comforting to flick the radio on to semisensical chat and lazily snake my car across lanes. Released overnight, Paratopic is a short first-person horror game which draws ideas from Thirty Flights Of Loving but takes them somewhere terrible, leading them down an alley and through an unmarked door into a world which looks a bit like ours but just isn’t right. I have enjoyed it.

It trips across several overlapping lives–an assassin, a smuggler transporting illicit and dangerous tapes, and someone simply hiking in the woods–with short sections tied together by jump cuts. It’s not as fast as Thirty Flights, letting sections linger to build dread. While we don’t get to stray too far from the path (both narratively and geographically), it does have a few mysterious spots I will return to investigate in a second playthrough, especially as I’ve seen others sharing terrible things I absolutely did not find.

It’s horror. Terrible things are seen. But mostly it’s unnerving rather than full-on horrifying, travelling through a shadow of our world and spending long stretches with the ace vintage horror synth soundtrack. Good tunes. Good sound effects. And good voiceovers, smooshed somewhere between English, nonsense, French (I think?), and the hissing of Killer7. It’s all very pleasantly uneasy on the ear.

It’s not a horror game, in the sense that it doesn’t adhere to crystallised forms of the genre. It kept me on edge. I was never quite sure what I might need to do, what I could do, or what could be done to me. Sure, I relax a little while talking with the petrol station attendant about weird local landmarks and disasters, but I never know if I’m safe even in the confines of a chat menu. And does it matter that I’m twisting out a cigarette (a detail I did enjoy)? Is this door a puzzle? Are the photos I’m snapping significant? I dig that uncertainty.

I dig the low-fi PlayStation-ish look too. It’s murky and grubby, unreal and not ugly, and pulls some neat tricks within the self-imposed limitations.

Paratopic is out now on Itch.io for $5.49, or you’ll get the soundtrack too if you pay at least $8.99. The soundtrack is good. The game’s made by Jessica Harvey, Doc Burford, and Chris Brown (aka BeauChaotica).

Harvey is one of the lot behind the fantastic-looking surreal stealth game Tangiers. Though it’s been set back by a string of life troubles, which is always understandable, it is still in the pipeline. After this, I’m even more keen for that.

12 Comments

  1. bramble says:

    Thirty Flights of Loving, you mean

  2. UnknownTarget says:

    Overused joke-em-up.

    Gonna start commenting this on every article that uses it so RPS can see how often it’s mentioned.

  3. Kefren says:

    Thanks for drawing my attention to things I’d miss! This sounds right up my street, and when I looked into itchio I was pleased to see that they don’t force you to create an account with them in order to buy things. Sold!

  4. April March says:

    You had me at ‘one of the lot behind Tangiers’. Which, uh, was the last paragraph, and you essentially had me already way before, but that was what pushed me over the edge. I don’t even like horror.

  5. ogopogo says:

    This sounds very much up my alley, will be putting it in the queue for next Halloween.

    If not for the mentions on RPS I don’t think I ever would’ve gotten Gravity Bone/30 Flights, or that other gem, Virginia. Really appreciate that you folks take the time to dig for the stronger titles in this mini-genre (walking sim++ ?) since they got no advertising to speak of and word-of-mouth often needs a nudge to get started.

  6. aznan says:

    Long time RPS lurker, (probably) fist time poster.

    I was stoked to play this when RPS gave it such high praise, and then other outlets started piling on as well. Well, I gotta say, after having just played though this, semi-intoxicated on Baileys, this is one of the worst games I’ve played.

    Yes, it does the jump cuts like Thirty Flights of Loving does, and it has the nice lo-fi graphics that tickles the nostalgia nerve, but it has none of the nostalgia pizazz, and in terms of jump cuts this article mentions that it’s slower than Loving, but at several points I wondered if the game was just stuck. And then, finally, as I thought the game was revving up somewhat, it just suddenly ended in the middle of nowhere.

    Alice, I generally like what you have to say, and I also generally dislike people who, as I just did, jump in with no prior record, and proclaim that a certain opinion is just the worst. But this is just the worst. So says I. And a bottle of Baileys.

    Bottom line: don’t belive the hype! Keep clear!

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