Paradise City was one of the first reviews that went up with the original launch of Resonance.
Escape from Paradise city is a dangerous game. Not because of its violence and ‘gangster’ themed setting, but because it does a great job of pulling you in to towards what initially feels like something that could be an enjoyable 20 hours of open ended role playing strategy. It’s dangerous because if you play the demo, you could easily be forgiven for thinking the full game would be worth a shot. It’s only when you suddenly reach the middle of the game and realise that the gameplay never really took off do you suddenly figure out that Paradise City has spent most of its time and budget trying to hide its utter lack of substance.
I’ve never been a huge fan of gangster themed games, so Paradise city and I got off to a bad start straight away. Escapism is one of the major reasons video games are so popular, but I’ve always felt a little fake pretending to be some gang banger in a dystopian city that’s always stabbing and shooting and vying for control of the ‘streets’. It’s really a personal thing, and I’m happy to be an eight foot tall space marine without problems, so perhaps I shouldn’t read into it so much. The thing is, if a game can pull it off properly, I don’t mind. The main character in San Andreas was probably the least like me anyone could ever be, but I didn’t feel silly or juvenile because even in a silly and juvenile world, there was obvious parody, genuinely funny jokes and a real sense of immersion. Paradise City grasps the silly and juvenile with both hands, but somehow walks straight past any pretense of satire or intelligent humour. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go entirely the other way into gritty realism, so it seems stuck unhealthily inbetween both worlds. The plot has the same identity crisis problem, when what felt like a comic violence gangster game gets flipped into some surreal science fiction/horror plot. The only reason I’m not convinced that the games writers didn’t get bored of the plot half way through and decided to spice it up a bit is the blurb on the box telling me all about a ‘virus’ the game refuses to introduce anywhere near soon enough.
The game plays as a mix between an action RPG and a strategy. During to the introduction, you are introduced to the three characters you are forced to play as; Nicholas Porter, Boris Chekov, and Angel Vargas. They each have their own cheap story attached to them, but the common theme is that they’ve all done something bad to someone, and are now being coerced into doing ‘missions’ for ‘the agency’. What the characters basically boil down to is ‘Ranged fighting’, ‘Melee fighting’ and ‘Group fighting’. They do all play slightly differently, but it’s a superficial difference.
The main idea behind the gameplay is taking over neighbourhoods in order to hire more and more AI controlled henchmen to help you fight the bigger bosses, and take more neighbourhoods. Once you have taken over a neighbourhood by defeating the neighbourhood boss, the boss will then – after needlessly running around the map for a few minutes while you defend him - relinquish control to you. Neighbourhoods under your control will give you a constant stream of income and extra slots for hiring allies to attack new neighbourhoods or defend ones you’ve already taken. Your allies different skills are varied enough to allow for a cheap sort of strategy, you can hire stronger, melee units and back them up with scouts and doctor units. You’ll also achieve special bonuses in different neighbourhoods that work like special powers. These range from the incredibly useful to the utterly pointless, but give the game a desperately needed extra level of strategy.
The game is set entirely in the confines of the city. For the first few hours of the game, this environment impressed me greatly. Although somewhat cartoony, it felt lifelike enough. Pedestrians muddle around on their business, cars drive through the dirty streets and every building seems different. The different view modes and the free camera allow you have to pretty much any view you want, and the graphics are crisp and smooth. At first glance, you really get the impression that the game is set in a dynamic and exciting world.
A few hours in though, and you’ll realise just how fake everything is. Buildings start recycling very quickly and the overall repetitive design of each neighbourhood seriously harms any hope of immersion. Many games recycle buildings when building large environments, but it becomes detrimental when you realise that there are no ‘clever parts’, no landmarks, no parts of the city you can instantly look at and identify without having to consult your map. It’s an easy trap to fall into when you’re entire game is set in an urban environment, but it feels a little lazy. The citizens only make things worse. Watch closely enough and you’ll notice ‘business women’ walk into dark alleyways near some thugs, bump into a wall, bump into another wall then walk back around and continue on her way. I wasn’t expecting a complicated citizen AI, but it would have been nice if they could have refrained from using walls as a means of transport. At least you can ignore this though, one thing that you can’t ignore are the five or six annoying phrases uttered by citizens throughout the entire game.
The gameplay is probably the best thing about Paradise City, but it’s really not up to all that much. It is honestly quite addictive, and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy playing them game at all. Paradise City isn’t the type of game that you’ll play through hoping it will end as soon as possible. It’s the type of game that once you have played it through, you’re not left with anything but the feeling you probably could have been playing something better. It seems to shoot itself in the foot so often it’s hard to justify the purchase. Your AI allies are designed to work in tangent with each other, but are entirely uncontrollable, and tend to just charge into an enemy neighbourhood, split up, and either die horribly or win by sheer force of numbers. The leveling system is in depth and offers some enjoyable options, but the game limits your level all the way through, and having to use one of three characters whose ‘class’ has already been chosen for severely limits what you can achieve.
It’s easy to play the game and feel like had it been designed slightly differently, it could have worked. Give us more control and strategy, let us pick our own character and stick with them. Enhance the roleplaying with some open ended missions and an ability to have some sort of choice. Give the city some flavour and give the game a bit of life. Perhaps with those changes, Paradise City may have really been something to play. If you’re really into action RPGs and you aren’t afraid of repetition and a little bit of frustration, it’s still a game to consider. You can play it at face value and enjoy it to a certain extent, but the games repetition quickly forces you to look for something deeper, and it’s honestly not there.