The November Blogs-Paratropic

Paratopic is a game that doesn’t care if you like it, it just cares if you pay attention. Developed by Arbitrary Metric, designed by Jessica Harvey and written by Doc Burford, it’s a nightmare born from the mind of David Cronenberg after he fell asleep playing PS1 horror games.

You’re a smuggler, arrested for smuggling narcotic VHS tapes out of the city. You’re an assassin, committing a murder and tracking down the tapes. You’re a birdwatcher, in woods haunted by birds that shouldn’t be and something impossible, an awful distended phantom that seems to be following every character…

The graphics here are muddy green and yellow and combined with the model choices create a feeling of the game being the exact sort of underground media contraband the smuggler would take across the border. Controls are minimal, dialogue is everything and the game is essentially a ‘Walking Simulator’ along similar lines to Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture and Dear Esther. Walking Simulators force you to have an emotional response, simply because you’re essentially on rails as the story unfolds around you. Paratopic builds on this and uses the rails, and their removal, as a means of accentuating the horror. The three stories switch seemingly at random, and one of the most unsettling elements is the way the assassin and the smuggler’s car journeys seem to blend together. The creature the Birdwatcher encounters stalks all three of them and only other people can truly see it. An area you can absolutely miss includes a video message which implies a capitalism powered experiment has maimed the planet and caused untold horror and danger. One of the game’s best sections is a conversation you, one or all of you, have with a gas station attendant. Something is badly wrong with everything, everywhere and its expressed in that grounded, mundane way we all deal with horror that makes you want to scream. Instead you just nod and make small talk and leave. You don’t know anything beyond the road, the video tapes, their remarkably gooey consequences and the growing sense of unease. Every step takes you forward, every pause holds you prisoner. The only way out is through, and Lazzie Brown’s remarkable, discordant soundtrack is there for you every step of the way, dogging your heels.Then there’s the flying pig. Or at least I’m pretty sure it’s a flying pig. During the Birdwatcher sections you’re led through the forest by a bird you can never quite catch sight of but which seems…pink…and rounded. It’s a moment of whimsy in the gentlest part of the game and its as haunting as a sudden shaft of sunlight in a Simon Stalenhag painting.

It’s also a trap. The birdwatcher’s sections end with a horrific, jagged 8-bit murder. By itself it’s deeply frightening but like everything and everyone in this game it can’t quite rest. The final section sees another character discover the same location as the Birdwatcher did and the aftermath. It’s a nasty moment, the polite broken cruelty of the world expressed through sinew and gristle. and it’s the last thing you see and the last choice you make. A phone call to the police made by the last person who should talk to the law, driven outside their glass corridor of a life by unspeakable horror and unable to do anything beyond bear witness.

Paratopic doesn’t care if you like or not. It just cares that you’ll remember it. You will.

Paratopic is out now for LinuxmacOSWindowsNintendo SwitchXbox One and Xbox Series.

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