The RPS Advent Calendar 2018, Dec 20th
We're almost there at the end! Festivity really is in the air, the scent of gingerbread and the sound of caroling drifting past. Ahhh! It's time to crack open door number 20 on the RPS Advent Calendar and... wait, why do I smell ozone? And what's that hissing static?
Alice O: Chin up, friendo. You're transporting cursed video tapes which are narcotics at best and a dreadful power at worse, you're in hock to some real shady figures, the city is near-deserted, crows peck at bodies in the streets, and The Man is on your back, but it could be worse - yours could be one of the other two stories this first-person vignette 'em up jumps between.
Paratopic ties together three overlapping stories from three people (or... does it?), a hiker, a courier, and an assassin. We jump between them in time and space, often with only subtle hints that we've changed. Sometimes we walk, sometimes we drive, sometimes we chat, sometimes we... ah, you'll see. It's a bit Thirty Flights Of Loving though at a less hectic pace, especially in scenes where we can linger or chat.
I do like chatting to people. Paratopic's dialogue is often sharp, with menace, humour, and chat all coming across well. I especially like that one option to say we're not interested in a giant ball of twine is explicitly marked as a lie; a twist of a familiar branching dialogue tool shows us more of who we are. I like the garbled Killer7-ish voices as well, especially while listening to the talk station on the car radio.
OH. I LIKE THE DRIVING. Driving through this sinister city is splendid.
I dig the 90s 3D look too, another edge of unreality, and it looks real pretty at times. Having wee doodads to fiddle with around the game--stubbing out a smouldering cigarette, squirting ketchup, and of course a camera to snap away with--is grand as well. Love those fiddlebits.
Paratopic reminds me of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and David Cronenberg's Videodrome, dark stories with a dreamy edge where the precise logic and sequence of events isn't nearly as important as the tone, feeling, and reactions they spark.
In video games, I'd point to North (one of our favourite games of 2016 and all, that one). Both place us in cities which are recognisable and familiar yet alien enough to be so very wrong, feeling concrete and not 'wacky' or 'weird'. In North we're a refugee with no understanding of the rules governing this place (play North; it's great) but here we're a native, paying no heed to the shadow people eating at the diner or the sheer emptiness of everything. That's just how it is.
Even when the Definitive Cut arrived in September with small new sections that did kinda sorta explain a thing or two, it didn't lorebomb away mystery, just drew me in deeper. What a curious world this is. What wonderful first-person... notquitehorror? Paratopic is a first-person unsettler.
Also: it's short. Wander and drive through this world for 45-60 minutes, experience a good thing, and move onto that pleasant phase where parts of it live on the back of your head, friendo.
Looking to open another door? Head back to the RPS Advent Calendar 2018.