- Paratopic (2018)
- Developer: Arbitrary Metric
- Publisher: Arbitrary Metric
Paratopic is hard to explain. After much consideration, I finally decided on calling it “if David Lynch directed Videodrome“. It’s a surreal, enigmatic tale set in a grim, dystopian world where video tapes are contraband and shadow creatures stalk the forests. It’s weird as fuck. And it’s brilliant.
The brainchild of three developers (oysterFAKE, ForgetAmnesia and Lazarus Audio), Paratopic tells the tale of three characters; a smuggler, an assassin and a photographer. During the course of the game you’ll switch between each character fairly rapidly, and during the first few minutes of the game the constant scene-switching may seem disorienting. Eventually though, you’ll start to figure out who you’re playing as.
The smuggler is taking illegal goods across the border when he’s picked up by the authorities. What’s he smuggling, you ask? Drugs? Guns? Nope. Video tapes. In the game’s world, tapes have a narcotic-like quality to them, as demonstrated in one incredibly memorable sequence set in an apartment. When the authority questioning you suggests watching one of the tapes, your character urges him not to. Suffice to say, it does not go well for him. It’s an incredibly unnerving opening and sets the surreal, creepy tone straight away.
The photographer gets the least screen-time but they still have a very important role to play. In these sequences, you’ll simply take photos of some birds and explore a nice little forest area. But as you approach an old abandoned factory… bad things happen. I’ll refrain from spoilers but you can imagine that things don’t go well for them. And the assassin is tasked with following the trail of the photographer. It all melds together in a non-linear tale that will keep you enthralled throughout. There’s a little bit of levity too, as you engage in some wonderfully written conversations with a gas station clerk. It’s a welcome break from the near-constant tension of the rest of the game.
The weirdness is enhanced by the game’s visuals. Indie horror games have developed an annoying habit of using standard 3D assets and simply putting a mosaic filter over the camera in a lazy effort to look “retro”. Paratopic‘s models are lovingly crafted polygons, stretching and distorting in unnerving ways. It’s one of the most faithful recreations of the PSX style I’ve ever seen.
The colour scheme is swathes of grimy green and brown. Character’s faces appear to be real photos slapped onto polygon heads, in a way that reminds me of WWF No Mercy (but much more disturbing). Couple the visuals with some truly fantastic audio and you have a cult horror gem. The soundtrack is a mix of lush ambience, bouncing synths and creepy drones. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the game and excels in creating atmosphere. A special mention also has to go to the sound design, and especially the dialogue, which consists of garbled speech that sounds just human enough to recognise a little of what the person is saying.
It’s also pretty damn scary. While there are a couple of (very effective) jumpscares, most of the scariness comes from the bizarre, body-horror visuals and general “what the fuck” feelings that the game evokes.
At only a 45-minute runtime, Paratopic is a short, bizarre experience that is well worth your time. It was my favourite indie game of 2018 and I recommend it to any horror fan.