Paratopic is a game about tapes. Well, it’s a short experience about tapes. And small talk with gas station attendants. And long drives. And seedy apartments. And something psychedelic I can’t quite put my finger on. This short first-person indie game by Jessica Harvey and Doc Burford took me 30 minutes to play through and had me scratching my head. With its trippy visual and auditory vibes, and puzzling story, you’ll likely be scratching your head, too.
You don't progress through Paratopic's world stage by stage or by traversing one large area. Instead, you walk, talk, or drive in brief scenes that transition one to the next, after a set amount of time or after you reach a certain destination.
You start the game in a hallway, cornered by someone – likely a law enforcement officer – who is talking to you, in a gibberish voice, about contraband. The contraband consists of tapes. Yes, VHS tapes, those lovely little trinkets we used to get from Blockbuster. You tell this law officer not to watch the tapes you're carrying, but he takes them from you, walks into a room off the hallway, and starts one up. The horrifying noise and white light that shoots from the room plants the seeds of suspense: what is on these tapes, what do they do, and why are they being transported illegally?
Immediately after the officer starts playing the tapes, you’re transported to a different scene: an eatery, and you're watching a bird peck at a dead body outside the window. You pick up and reload a revolver. Next, a man sits across the table from you, discussing some kind of illegal business proposition, while speaking in the same gibberish as the law enforcement officer. Paratopic has sudden scene changes and odd sights throughout. There are a few different story threads, but it isn't made clear how they connect.
In one scene, you’re walking through the forest. Trippy music plays. Transition: you’re driving in a car. You can turn on the radio to hear gibberish talk radio or classical music. Transition: you’re in a gas station, and walk up to the attendant to talk about aliens or odd local attractions. Transition: now you're back in the car, or in the woods. One particular neat transition is done with an elevator. It takes forever to get down, but once you step in it, you’re immediately at the next floor.
The only thread through all of these scenes is the backstory on tapes. You never even know who your character is. You could be playing as more than one character, each set of scenes being from one character's perspective. In any case, the story leaves a lot to you to put together, dangerous tapes being the starting point. Not all questions are explicitly answered by the game's end.
Pixelated visuals and VHS tape effects flavor the game as something seedy. The whole game feels like dirty business. You’re up to no good in a meaningless and cold world, and you feel it. The soundtrack, composed by BeauChaotica, adds complementary vibes. It makes for an impressive stylistic experience.
I have one gripe: you can’t change the key inputs. As a left-handed mouse user, I was a bit perturbed, but movement is basic walking, with no strafing or other fancy maneuvers needed. Dialogue and driving segments are as much of the game as walking segments. So, I was able to deal with shifting my keyboard over to use WASD while keeping my left hand on the mouse. There is gamepad support, though I did not use it.
Dialogue trees offer substantial conversations, but they aren’t flawless. On a second playthrough, a character at the start said something about my lawyer, even though I had not selected the option where I say that I want my lawyer. It seems characters will say certain lines eventually, no matter the options you choose. Another misstep occurred when I spoke with a gas station attendant. Though I had talked with him about every option offered - questions about local attractions - he asked me if I wanted info on them all over again. I had no option to exit the conversation until I had gone through at least one of his descriptions that I had just read.
But those points are minor. Overall, I encountered no huge downsides to Paratopic as I enjoyed its brief, psychadellic, bizarre tale. It’s only $5.49 on itch.io, and you should give it the small amount of time it asks for.
Trevor reviewed Paratopic with a copy he had purchased.