Ann Smith is going on an adventure -- whether she likes it or not. After her plane crash-lands on the border of an African country called Madargane, she finds herself missing most of her memories. Luckily, she also finds herself in the hospitality of the country's royal family. In Paradise, players take the role of Ann, to guide her through a story that will help her remember her past, and learn more about her future, as well.
The game features a point-and-click interface that allows players to move Ann through 3D environments from a third-person perspective. Many of the game's challenges involve puzzles Ann must solve to progress in her journey, using items she's collected and clues she's gleaned. To solve some puzzles, she may need the help of a feline friend she makes along the way, who suffers a predicament not unlike her own.
Paradise is the first game developed by White Birds Productions, a studio founded by designers who worked on Microid's award-winning 2002 adventure game Syberia and its sequel.
When was the last time you found yourself stranded and confused in Africa? Paradise, the latest point-and-click adventure from the creator of the cult hit Syberia, gives you that chance. Having been shot down over the country of Maurania, a young woman awakens with amnesia in the harem of a local prince. Not knowing her own real name, she calls herself "Ann Smith" after the author of a book on Mauranian wildlife that was found with her at the crash.
And this, really, is where the problems start. Ann's true identity is no mystery whatsoever - in fact, it's explicitly revealed in the game's opening cutscene. Once you discover why she's in Maurania, her amnesia hasn't made any difference; the game's events would have been roughly the same whether with or without her memory. Actually, without spoiling anything, not suffering amnesia might have made things a bit more exciting. It's symptomatic of the game as a whole, which sometimes throws in unnecessary complications for no good reason. It's also why an epic adventure that takes you to palaces, villages and emerald mines to return a black leopard to its home and beyond never feels as good or exciting as it should be.
Mind you, the game still looks and sounds incredible. Consistently high production values and an impressive level of detail only support the old cliche that French developers make games with style. Everything from the creature design to the natives' dialect feels strangely believable. Simple, effective musical phrases sets the mood while the voice acting is a sharp cut above average.
Paradise is the first game to emerge from White Birds Productions, the French studio co-founded by game designer Benoit Sokal. Like Sokal's previous games (Amerzone, Syberia, and Syberia II), Paradise takes the player to exotic fictional locales, full of fantastic flora, fauna, cities, and machines. All of these are richly portrayed in pre-rendered 3D backdrops and immersive sound. However, Paradise is far from perfect: it suffers from buggy programming, unintuitive hotspots and puzzles, limited dialog, and unsatisfying endings to its plot and subplots.
The original release of Paradise is in French only, published by Micro Application in 2006. An English language version, published by Ubisoft, is later released. The game includes a booklet that introduces the designer, story, and user interface. A patch, version 1.1.1, has also been released to address bug fixes and performance issues.
At the start of Paradise, the protagonist awakes with near-total amnesia after suffering injuries in an airplane crash. She finds herself in an isolated palace, where the serving girl gives her the name Ann Smith. Outside the Palace walls lies the (fictional) African nation of Maurania, ravaged by civil war. Ann's first instinct is to attempt to return to Geneva, Switzerland (the only place she remembers), yet gradually she discovers that she has much deeper ties to Maurania and its conflict.
Character development is where the storytelling starts to weaken in Paradise. First, most characters' scripts are short and contain little personal back-story. Second, as Ann moves on to new locales and armies massacre everyone in her wake, the characters simply have too little time to develop. Some subplots have loose ends. For instance, early in the game, one minor character murders another, but the reasons for this act never come to light. Even Ann's true motivations, which are revealed in the game's final scene, are not entirely convincing either (and they are not pleasant, in any case). For this reason, gamers may feel railroaded by the lack of alternative endings.
Both the dialog and voice acting in Paradise show a lack of attention to details. A few lines of dialog seem misplaced, unclear, or mistranslated. One generic line refers to every character, male or female, as "him". While the voice acting is adequate for the script and each character's voice is distinctive and clear, there is not much range of emotion to work with in the lines. Many characters come across as either lethargic or bitter. A few different stage accents mingle together: French colonial, British, South African, and Brooklyn. Yet, there is not always an obvious reason for the mix.
The story in Paradise unfolds across several settings that are impressive to behold and hear. Streaming sunlight, water, birdsong, and flowering vines are some of the memorable details of the first setting, the Palace. A dusty city and an eerie wilderness also come to life vividly. Later, however, the atmosphere in Paradise becomes more industrial and oppressive. A Baroque darkness seems to be Sokal's aim here, yet it does not always show up well on the computer screen. Throughout the game, somber and mysterious music helps to build suspense.
Paradise contains few real-time animated background elements. To its credit, however, the game has many cut scenes, which can be very lively. The real-time character movements are acceptably fluid but do not have much variety. Notably, the characters just stand still during dialog scenes.
The game's interface is point-and-click. When rolling over hotspots, the mouse cursor changes to indicate what kind of action is possible (talk, take, use something or exit). There is no "look" command or rollover text, so it is sometimes hard to judge what each hotspot is. This difficulty is compounded by dim lighting in many later scenes of the game. A few clues, but not many, come from dialogs and documents. Some hotspots cover only small parts of what a player may consider just one object. For example, there is only one area of the Palace's swimming pool where the game allows Ann to gather water.
Gameplay in Paradise progresses mainly via inventory puzzles and machine puzzles. Most of the game's early puzzles are quite logical, albeit complicated by the difficulty of locating and identifying hotspots. Later on, many puzzles descend into the absurd. A bat, for example, must be bombarded with emeralds in order to make it fly toward an inaccessible crate. Then, Ann's pet panther jumps toward the bat and knocks the crate to the ground, allowing Ann to find dynamite inside the crate. Only the brute force approach (testing every inventory item on every hotspot) lends itself well to this kind of puzzle.
The game has 3 optional sequences where the player is allowed to control Ann's pet panther in real-time 3D. For the later two of the panther sequences, almost everything on-screen is invisibly dark. These parts of the game are essentially unplayable.
Lastly, the game suffers from a barrage of bugs, even with the patch. Some of the less linear parts of the game seem to have been play-tested for only one sequence of player actions. At least two alternative sequences of player actions result in events never occurring and the game comes to a dead end (and cannot be finished). For example, early in the game Ann finds an ingredient list for something and can start to prepare it even before finding out why she will need it. However, doing so results in the disappearance of the dialog topics about that item. Those dialog topics trigger an event that is essential to completing the game.
Paradise is a game not easily liked because its quality is so uneven. The earlier half of the game features exceptional graphics and sound, along with decent puzzles, but it also seems to be the buggier half of the game. Later, the programming stability seems to improve but the gaming experience suffers from murky lighting, unintuitive puzzles, and very odd plot twists. The short script and the spotty play-testing are examples of aspects of development that are clearly inadequate relative to the length and complexity of the game.
Players who are dedicated to exploring games' artwork and can tolerate flaws in storytelling, programming, and gameplay will still appreciate Paradise. In the end, however, there are just too many other (and better) games that can deliver an immersive atmosphere without the kinds of frustrations and disappointments that are present in Paradise.
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