From Benoît Sokal, renowned for the Syberia games and Amerzone: The Explorer's Legacy, comes a tale of an African country in turmoil, a young woman, and a leopard. Whilst the ending is potentially more emotionally confronting than your average adventure game, regrettably the path to get there is a long way short of Mr Sokal's previous efforts.
The artistry present in the sets and the cutscenes of those earlier games are here, the fantastic creatures and elaborate machines pop up throughout, but there is a general blandness about Paradise. Its plot lurches about, and never really gets going until the climax, and clumsy dialogue trees don't help. There is a tale of discovery going on here, just like in Syberia, but, despite the issues canvassed, it lacks the spark to grab hold.
Perhaps some stronger characterisation would have helped. Ann Smith is determined, but is no Kate Walker. The story is placed squarely on her shoulders but she lacks the presence to carry the proceedings. This affected the plot and detracted, I thought, from what should have been a powerful ending. Ann's journey of realisation seemed to happen around her, and all of a sudden she goes from being seemingly disengaged to emotionally charged. It didn't ring true to me, and it could have been a combination of things contributing. But I do think Ann lets it down.
She might have been assisted by a relationship such as Kate had with Oscar, and in that regard the leopard is a major disappointment. Their connection promised a lot, but didn't deliver. "Continue the journey as the leopard in real-time 3D" said my game box, but the periods of controlling the leopard were little more than gimmicky and could be skipped altogether. The leopard was a presence, and not a lot more.
Gameplay in Paradise will be familiar to any who have played Syberia, but make sure you apply the patch. Numerous glitches will make a non-patched version frustrating in the extreme. They aren't though, all eradicated afterwards. For me the cursor stopped reacting several times, and in one spot a conversation would not trigger, and the only way out was to exit to the desktop and then reload. Also, on more than one occasion Ann simply wouldn't go where the cursor said she should, and several times characters failed to respond to the cursor as they should have. So it wasn't all plain sailing.
One more word of gameplay warning. In most screens, you exit through a directional cursor, and a new screen loads. In some, however, the screen scrolls sideways, before you reach an "exit". You won't know this until you approach that side of the screen, but, if you are relying on the cursor to indicate what you can do, you may well fail to appreciate that another direction is available to you.
There are some little in game activities in Paradise which Ann must complete: hop over unstable lily pads, go angling for sand fish, manipulate a swinging cage, to name a few. They may prove frustrating, perhaps more so whilst you work out how to interact with them.
Most conundrums are inventory based, in that you find and use the correct items in the right ways. Some are nicely integrated into the game, others less so. Some I thought were just silly, getting the dynamite in the mine being the pinnacle. Some events also leave a little to be desired; fantastical happenings is one thing, completely unrealistic interactions are another altogether (freeing the chief and reaching the almonds spring to mind). There are also some machines to get started and operate, and these were the pick of the puzzling challenges, particularly the ones towards the end of the game.
Paradise is point and click all the way, the interactive cursor indicating hotspots, albeit it a little slowly. I suggest you turn off the animated cursor in the options screen; the cursor reacts more quickly to the hotspot without the animation, meaning you are less likely to miss small ones. Some of the hotspots are indeed rather small, and several fail to stand out at all from the background, meaning a little pixel hunting is in order. But overall, once the patch was applied it was no more or less problematic than many adventure games.
The voice acting is ok, although a bit more passion from Ann might have helped. The music loop in the initial harem bugged me so much I turned the music volume all the way down so I can't tell you how it was later in the game. Ambient sound though is good.
Many screens are there to add detail, as you simply pass through them on your way to somewhere else. You probably won't mind too much, as the detail is obvious if a little colourless at times. There were several errands where I did object to having to run here, then back, then back to where I started, then back again, but double click makes Ann run so it's not too big an issue. And much of the back and forth is simply a result of having to piece together what to do next, which is part and puzzle of adventuring.
The cutscenes are a highlight, and you can watch these again at any time from the main menu. You can tweak settings, turn subtitles on and off (including choosing a colour for the subtitles which is an excellent option), and fiddle with volume. Save games are seemingly unlimited, and the menu and inventory is just a right click away.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2006.
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Windows 2000/XP (only), Pentium IV or Athlon 1.5 GHz or higher, 512 MB RAM, 4 x CD ROM or DVD ROM, 2.5 GB disc space, 64 MB DirectX 9.0c compliant video card, DirectX 9.0c compliant sound card. DirectX 9.0c (included on disc).