Today we’re taking a closer look at a trio of narrative-driven games that were recently released: Paradise Lost, The Fabled Wood and Lost Words – Beyond the Page.
Developed by PolyAmorous and published by All in! Games, Paradise Lost was a title we first got to sample during last year’s digital Gamescom, when a playable demo for the game was available. It was a tantalizing sample of the game’s atmosphere, so we couldn’t wait to dive into the bigger picture for its full release – which is a multiplatform game that we tested on a PlayStation 4 Pro.
The game is set in an alternate history in which the Nazi forces decided to just drop nuclear bombs on Europe before proceeding into bunkers they had built in order to wait out the radioactive fallout. Years after this disastrous end to the war, you’re a young boy who ventures inside one of these seemingly abandoned bunkers looking for your father after your mother passes.
Much like a walking simulator, you spend the bulk of Paradise Lost exploring this almost alien location and uncovering what happened here to the technologically advanced civilization that retreated there and then vanished. Through information in scattered notes and recordings, almost philosophical notions are explored and the narrative doesn’t shy away from heavy-handed topics either – which is only fitting since it deals with a Nazi apocalypse of sorts.
You also discover you’re not alone when speaking to a girl called Ewa over the radio, and she helps you through the linear narrative with subtle cues. In a devastated world, their interpersonal relationship is a highlight of the well-told narrative in Paradise Lost, although the voiceover work doesn’t always do the quality of the plot justice, sometimes falling flat rather than rising to the (emotionally rich) occasion.
The audiovisual design, on the other hands, definitely does – Paradise Lost brings this fictional lost world to life with a great amount of detail, each sublocation almost a character or side story in and of itself. Paradise lost might be lacking in gameplay thrills in terms of action sequences or engaging puzzles (the ones that are there are very straightforward), but is a great example of visual storytelling that kept us engaged for the entirety of its 5 hour narrative.
The Fabled Woods
Developed by CyberPunch Studios and published by Headup, The Fabled Woods is a PC-exclusive walking simulator that tells a short story but impresses most of all through its excellent visuals, which include support for ray-traced foliage, shadows and reflections and RTX Global Illumination on DLSS-supported Nvidia video cards.
The Fabled Woods, when played on one of the aforementioned video cards, showcases some AAA-level visual effects that are truly impressive, but the game does find itself firmly rooted in indie territory for other reasons. The gameplay isn’t particularly rich, even for a walking simulator, and the tale is also rather short, clocking it at one to two hours of gameplay time.
The narrative transports you to a forest setting and has a strong visual atmosphere, especially in the outdoor locations thanks to some good lighting effects. Despite the short runtime, the game is divided into mini chapters that play out like a mini-series because the perspective switches to different narrators for each chapter – which all end in dream sequences that help give you more understanding of the general plot.
One of the biggest issues for The Fabled Woods is that it was designed to be linear almost to the point of feeling like it’s literally on rails. In a wooded setting, you’d expect a fair bit of exploring and getting lost, but here you mostly just stick to a single path, with a built-in hint system letting you know if you need to backtrack along said path.
As such, there is little replay value here, even though there are a few choices for you to make. The story itself is interesting enough and the different perspectives are a nice touch, but with its short runtime and lack of engaging gameplay this is a tad pricey in a genre that has some true gems available for it.
Lost Words – Beyond The Page
Published by Modus and developed by Sketchbook Games and Fourth State, Lost Words – Beyond the Page isn’t actually a brand new release, but a port of a title that was originally a Stadia exclusive. Luckily, partly because we don’t know anyone who uses Stadia, it’s now available on consoles as well and PCs as well.
And if we had to highlight why this one belongs in our narrative-centered roundup of recent releases, we just have to point out that none other than Rhianna Pratchett helped with the narrative, which is about a young girl called Izzy. She has a vivid imagination, and hopes to be a writer some day. As you can perhaps infer from the title, the stories she puts down in her notebook start coming to life, and transport Izzy to the world she herself has created.
You get to guide Izzy through all this, both by helping her shape her stories (by picking from options that are floating around in her head) and by playing through the story pages that have come life – often as platforming sections that feature a girl like Izzy herself as the main character. Her imaginary world is also very much an escape, as we’re also confronted with sad events in the young girl’s real life – things that affect her and us on an emotional level.
As the story progresses Izzy discovers that her fictional world and the real world are more closely intertwined than she had imagined, and her words have the power to transform the game world in surprising way. It’s a bit like the indie hit Baba Is You in that sense, although Lost Words only features six words for you to play around with so the solutions aren’t as intricate as those in Hempuli Oy’s cult puzzler.
Despite the child at the center of the story, Lost Words – Beyond the Page features a heavily emotional narrative that makes for very mature storytelling. Creativity as an escape from emotional trauma is definitely a theme here, and perhaps it’s because Izzy is so young it’s an impactful tale. The actual gameplay isn’t groundbreaking and features elements we’ve seen put to better use elsewhere, but in terms of a visually laid out story it’s extremely memorable and right up there with the likes of Limbo in how it leaves an impression. Definitely recommended.