Paradise Lost takes place in an alternate history in which the Nazis did not decisively lose World War II. Instead, the war dragged on for another 20 years, they developed massive underground bunkers, and then nuked the planet in one last desperate attempt to complete their genocidal plans. You play as Szymon, a young boy who has lived his entire life up to this point in a small fallout shelter with his mother. It is now 1980, and you, as Szymon arrive at one of the Nazi’s massive bunkers in search of the man in his mother’s photograph.
What follows is a first-person narrative where you explore the bunker and slowly reveal the mysteries within. Not long after you arrive, you meet a young girl named Ewa, who claims to be trapped somewhere in the bunker. She starts speaking to Szymon over the bunker’s comms, and a dialogue between the two begins.
Paradise Lost is very much a “Walking Sim”-style game in the vein of Gone Home, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and Dear Esther. You move through the bunker, read notes, listen to tape recordings, and talk to Ewa. As you delve deeper, the layers of mystery start to unravel.
The last few years have made the “What if the Nazis didn’t lose?” narrative a little too real here in the US, but there’s still something intriguing about the concept here. As I dug through the opening areas I got that sense of playing a fictional archeologist that makes the quests of Fallout games so intriguing. There is a haunting quiet to the opening areas of Paradise Lost that had me really excited to push forward.
Unfortunately, once Szymon meets Ewa, the haunted Nazi bunker concept mostly falls away. There are layers of history to this place, with a blend of sci-fi and spiritualism running through the various conflicts that occurred.
I found the layering somewhat hard to follow, and less interesting as a result. Notes and audio logs are out of order not only from the various major events that occured in the bunker, but from different eras and denizens as well. This is exacerbated by some choices you can make along the way.
A few computer terminals in Paradise Lost allow you to relive major conflicts in the bunker, and as you replay these memories the game will present you with options that somewhat rewrite history. I found it to be an odd, distracting choice, as your timeline-warping agency doesn’t really tie into the storytelling at all.
This is in addition to choices you have as you talk to Ewa and explore the bunker. These choices don’t change the narrative much at all, but they do create scenarios where you can lock yourself out of learning more about the bunker. One particular scene presents skipping a major narrative beat as the “good” moral choice, and as a result takes all of the drama out of the next area. Another scene only lets you explore two out of three locked rooms, forcing a replay of the entire game to see the contents of the third room.
Those sections, combined with multiple endings—and a save system that deletes your progress when the credits roll—ensure you’ll have to play through the game twice if you want to see the full story. However, there really isn’t enough variety to justify this. My second time through the game was largely the same, and while I saw a few more notes and tapes, I didn’t ever feel like I arrived at a better understanding of what happened in the bunker.
The gameplay and aesthetic polish also create some issues that impact the narrative. You walk incredibly slow in Paradise Lost, to the point where it is almost comical. I imagined Szymon slowly stomping around like a child impersonating Godzilla whenever I moved from one narrative beat to another. It’s only funny for so long though, as it also makes exploration feel like a punishing choice. Walk too far in the wrong direction, and you’re now stuck slowly stomping your way back to the critical path.
In addition to that, some very stilted voice acting reminiscent of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, made it hard to fully immerse myself in the mood and tone of the game. I’m usually able to forgive a lack of polish in a smaller game like this, but when it disrupts the tone of the narrative it becomes a distraction. When I was already laughing at awkward dialogue and a slow-stomping protagonist, the odd texture loading issues and Szymon’s cartoonish balloon hands became bigger distractions than they would be otherwise.
Paradise Lost started as a game I was ready to be immersed into. It’s a shame then that the more it went on, the more I disconnected from it. Another layer of polish and better voice acting performances would have helped, but ultimately I wish the layered narrative had more intriguing ideas to chew on.