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.