Paradigm is a point-and-click adventure in the style of early LucasArts and Sierra titles such as Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit The Road, and Space Quest. Made by a single developer from Western Australia, it’s a love letter to the golden era of point-and-click adventure games in all its surreal, quirky, irreverent, hilarious, and oddly charming glory. It harks back to a time when the motto was “the weirder the better”, and for gamers who didn’t grow up clicking on every pixel of a screen to find the solution to an obscure puzzle or simply hear the protagonist’s thoughts about an object, playing Paradigm is likely going to feel like staring at a relic in a museum.
From its art style to its sound design and narrative, Paradigm is old school. Its vibrant colour palette, bizarre character models, and stiff animations are charmingly retro, but there is also a level of detail in both characters and environments that is really very impressive. Posters actually have pictures and text on them, cracks and marks are all over walls, characters have skin blemishes and so on. These are small touches, but they go a long way to increasing immersion. The fictional setting of Krusz is a post-nuclear Eastern European city, and is realised as a combination of Cold War era propaganda depictions of the Eastern Bloc and the typical 80s sci-fi movie vision of the future. It’s bleak, but weirdly charming.
The score is a weird, wonderful mix of electronic club music (or “phat beatsies” as the protagonist would say) and Vangelis-esque soundscapes. It’s futuristic-yet-retro; heavy-yet-restrained; bombastic-yet-subtle. This interesting contrast extends to the voice acting and sound effects. Fun and silly blips, bleeps and bloops are all par for the course, but these are also juxtaposed against more dreary sounds like wind blowing through empty streets. Characters are voiced in an over-the-top and intentionally cheesy way, but beneath the corny Eastern European accents and dad jokes is a sense of genuine emotion.
However, where things really go utterly bonkers in a very “golden era of adventure games way” is the story. You play as Paradigm, a mutant with a sentient, talking tumour who works at a nuclear power plant and whose true dream is to become an electronic musician. One morning when he tries to boot up his computer to make some “phat beatsies”, he discovers the operating system is broken. A minor inconvenience, but one that is soon revealed to potentially threaten the entire world. Because you see Krusz happens to have the largest concentration of nuclear waste in the whole world underneath it, and Paradigm’s music-making computer just so happens to double as a regulator for the nuclear reactor in the plant. And that’s just in the first ten minutes.
What follows is a wacky tale of eugenics, a genetically engineered talking Sloth named Olaf who vomits candy, wears a Donald Trump wig, and is intent on world domination (really). And so much more. The story is every bit as completely off-the-wall as those in the games it so lovingly takes influence from. Maybe even more so.
However, dig a little deeper, and underneath the obviously nostalgic and completely absurd surface layer lie some very deep, thought-provoking themes, explored through a narrative and characters that are much more nuanced than they first seem. Issues such as class warfare, what it means to be human, free will, self-esteem, and existential dread all bubble away below the game’s radioactive surface. It’s just that they’re explored through doing things like engaging in turn-based combat with a pug who is part of a cult that venerates Glam Metal. Of course, if you do just want to take Paradigm completely literally and never really delve into its deeper thematic elements, you’re still going to find yourself laughing out loud and having a thoroughly entertaining time. But you’d also be doing the game a disservice, as it really does a great job of exploring the kinds of themes typically reserved for more “serious” titles.
Strangely, given how old school and purist Paradigm is in every other way when it comes to paying homage to 90s point-and-click adventures, it’s a surprisingly easy game. Veterans are going to breeze through it without even so much as scratching their heads, and even casual players aren’t going to find themselves having much trouble. Puzzles are very simple, often involving nothing more than finding the right item in the environment and using it on another clearly telegraphed item. There is none of that infamous “adventure game logic” required for puzzles, which may disappoint those looking for a serious challenge. This is however made up for with some brilliant mini games, including a side-scrolling beat ‘em up where your fists are replaced with compliments, and a dating sim that lets you fornicate with a toaster.
Paradigm is a hugely pleasant surprise. For a game that appears childish and ridiculous on the surface, it will resonate with you in a way that many more “serious” titles wish they could...as long as you let it.
Paradigm (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
A surprisingly deep, emotionally engaging tale for a game that lets you fornicate with a toaster.