Escape from Paradise City Review
|Genre:||RPG / RTS|
|Release Date:||October 26th, 2007 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Duncan Lawson (sinna01)|
There are certain genres that, despite ostensibly seeming laden with potential for a game incarnation, remain extremely problematic. Take for instance the Western - now this should be overflowing with all and everything a production team could wish for. The whole setting is packed full of not only violence, but the edgy atmosphere of the gunfight about to spark off at any minute. Everybody is improbably heavily armed, long coats billow in the breeze, sidekicks have crazy ethnic accents, and bad guys wear black. There's treasure to be quested for, canyons to be explored, and even at last a plausible reason to set a level in an abandoned mine. Despite all this, the decent Western titles could be counted on one hand by ET. These two were 1997s early cell-shaded Lucasarts offering Outlaws, followed by just shy of ten years of lukewarm efforts such as Gun, Red Dead Revolver and Dead Mans Hand before 2006 saw Call of Juarez not only talk the talk but walk the walk to boot.
The other genre that producers should think well in excess of twice about before tackling is the 'crime sim'. Just like the Western example, it is chock full of seeming potential, for many of the same reasons minus the abandoned mine. Despite several forays into the field, the last absolutely solid crime sim offering that stands out in my memory is a long time ago - about 15 years in fact. Syndicate (and to a lesser extent its slightly shinier makeover ) was the last time I remember actually enjoying a real time crime sim. Now that is a long dry spell considering the technology that has come and gone between then and now. Not one of us had even heard of a playstation back in those days and the SNES was still king of the hill.
But now comes Escape from Paradise City by Denmark based Sirius Games. The camera POV can of course be wiggled about these days, but it's still a top down / isometric real-time crime wave sim that sees your squads of villains taking over a map area-by-area via force of arms. Click on the map to go hence, click on a target to open fire. So after all this time, after a decade and a half of insipid and uninspired gaming in the genre, Escape from Paradise City has come along and I can definitely say… I still like Syndicate better.
The concept of Paradise City is you play one of three criminals, all plucked from death row or a life sentence by the mysterious government agency who is none too happy about the shadowy organisation now pulling the strings in lawless Paradise City. Yes, it is the plot of XXX or La Femme Nikita or even the Dirty Dozen really. Your character is dropped into a district of the city which comprises each level of the game. Point and click your character around the map, occasionally getting into scrapes with random thugs, until you locate on the map the safe-house of the local Boss. Blast or stab him into submission, at which point he'll scamper off to tell the rest of that little neighbourhood you are now top dog. The shops and bars in said neighbourhood will now not only be accessible to you, but will steadily pay you a slice of their income. Add a couple of violent types to your entourage by talking with them - your 'leadership' stats permitting - and you all now head off for the adjacent neighbourhood to repeat the procedure until the whole district is yours. Rinse off the blood, and repeat.
The basic game mechanic is not bad really, if a bit too simplistic. The urban landscape is pretty much identical wherever you go, the model variety is quite limited, and the actual persecution of the action nearly identical throughout the game. None the less, simplicity in ones interface is often a key element to making a truly excellent game. In slightly harder battles, where some strategic thought helps to carry the day, getting your squad of villains to attack specific targets using specific abilities is a simple point and click affair that can be done quickly in response to real-time goings on. This one - and arguably only - strength of Paradise City is unfortunately undercut by a ludicrously overcrowded interface menu, with such a preponderance of buttons and icons that you are as likely to open four different random menus as have Handy Harry weigh in with his shotgun. I played the preview build with some reservations, but it was of course only a work in progress so bugs like that were sure to get ironed out. Upon cracking open the Review version it turned out to be exactly the same, so shame on them.
The preponderance of buttons and icons on screen are essentially used to either open the skill tree menus or to perform one of the chargeable attacks. Combat is therefore a process of engaging an enemy and standing toe-to-toe with them, hitting the special attack buttons (i.e Aimed Shot, Burst Fire, Leg Shot, Stab-o-Rama, etc) as they become available. Kill the locals, take the businesses, upgrade your weapons, move on to the next neighbourhood. What you basically have here then is World of Warcraft: Vice City, with the less attractive elements of both sewn lumpenly together. The skill tree and stat increase menu will be instantly familiar to anyone who's played an RPG for more than ten minutes, with different branches of the tree representing personal abilities, leadership qualities, and buffs. Enough points will unlock special powers such as satellite scans, air strikes, special henchmen etc, to be deployed at the opportune moment.
A little more depth comes into Paradise City as the surrounding neighbourhoods still under the control of rival gangs do not always sit still waiting for you to come calling. Rival gangs can and will launch assaults on your gained territory, looking to smack around the local underboss in much the same was as you did. Your choice here boils down to leaving more of your local muscle to protect the ground you've taken or have them come with you to help conquer, but the former seems to be nearly always the right approach.
The titular city itself is not badly presented, if a little repetitively. The maps are full of citizens wandering around doing whatever its is they do, cars rolling around places, lots of the predictable chattering and honking ambient sound effects. Unfortunately, the concept hasn't been followed through. Back when you were haring about in the shiny slip-ons of Tommy Vercetti you had a whole living breathing city to batter and abuse, and that was good fun. Pedestrians would react, little tableaux would unfold for you to observe, and every car was yours for the taking. Here all the background people are just window dressing that scatters when the violence starts, and if there had been a graphical option to just turn them off I would have, just to make things clearer and save processing load. Even the actual scalability of the city is pretty low, with only three or four rooms to be entered in each neighbourhood.
The multiplayer aspect of Escape to Paradise City might yet hold out a little more promise, with up to eight players battling it out for dominance of the street. This would likely bring out quite a few tactical elements that the computer AI simply doesn't have the sophistication to exploit. On the other hand, the game really doesn't have much depth to go around being sneaky or creative in, so it might add little satisfaction other than that of beating a living, squealing human rather than the AI.
The graphics and styling of Escape from Paradise City look like they owe even more to the GTA series than the games mechanics or concept do, except that they don't offer the variety, and fail to inject any real character into the characters. Even your chosen lead will remain little to you aside from a overhead dot gun-platform - another great strength of the crime genre, that of wonderfully wicked and flawed anti-heroes, missed entirely by this title.
Considering you can get Syndicate and Syndicate Wars gratis quite legally with a few web searches, the most realistic impression of criminal activity you will find anywhere on Escape from Paradise City will be the price tag on the box.
- Essentially simple game play mechanic
- Not particularly challenging
- Low systems demands
Not so good stuff
- Overly cluttered buttons and icons
- Overly simplistic game play
- Uninvolving combat
- Repetitive scenery
- Poor representation of a living city
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