The Underlying Horror of 'Paratopic'

The Underlying Horror of 'Paratopic'

There is a dead body outside a diner. You are the only one that seems to notice.

There are dark figures lurking at the counter, and a man sits across from you with a jumbled look, and speech that sounds like the static caught between two radio stations. Suddenly you are kicking open a door, with a gun in your hand. Then, you are wandering through quiet woods, with brutalist architecture looming in the distance. In another instance, you sit in a hallway, and witness the man who brought you in fall to pieces, the only thing left is a message.

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Paratopic isn’t interested in giving you answers, or even proper questions. Instead, it presents three stories that cut suddenly between one another and leave you with a sense of unease. The horror here isn’t as clear, but instead lives on the edges and gives you that quiet sense of dread -- like sitting in bed late at night and hearing a noise in your house. As you search for the source with your phone’s flashlight, you suddenly look at your everyday surroundings a new light, every shadow housing a hidden horror. You never find the source of the sound, but your imagination has conjured up terrible specters. Paratopic lives and thrives in this confusion.

"...a facade of a world created to hide that which lurks below."

Horror in games usually ends up being jump scares, or psychological horror that relies on the twisting of established tropes. Paratopic instead takes a more subtle approach, giving weight to certain actions, but leaving the greater plot obscured. As the player, the objects you interact with through the game help give a sense of place. You open each latch on a suitcase with a satisfying *click*, revealing a pile of VHS tapes that in this world seem to be both drug and tool of horror. You tune the radio as you drive down unfamiliar and sleepy roads, living in the abandoned space between both civilization and stations. It is actions such as these that ground the game, and provide a source of comfort in a game that trades in confusion. Even the sole gun of the game is only fired once, and it carries a heavy weight with that single action. Guns in games generally are fired… thousands of times. In Paratopic, it acts as punctuation, a period to a scene rather than the syllables that tell the story.

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Even as you investigate the aforementioned forest and get closer to the brutal building that could be a source of all of this chaos, you feel that sense of unease rising as you get closer and closer to your goal. Your only companion in this section is a camera, capturing what could be your final moments. I took the time to take some “nice” photos as I am a photographer, and it was actions like this that disarmed me for what came next. Even at the end, one final action, one last sign turn, warns you of what is to come.

The look of the game is praiseworthy as well. Paratopic looks like it should live in a bygone era of the original Playstation. Early 3D graphics that are blocky and blurry, but in this case don’t overload your senses. The game smash cuts between each perspective, and the graphics give you a sense of place immediately. It feels dirty and rough, but not in the way that we use those words for modern games. It comes across lived-in and jagged in a way. A layer of rust, grime, and smog that hide the terror within but also harken back to the days where there was a sense of unease with 3D games.

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As games took their first steps out of the 8-bit and 16-bit realms, 3D worlds were created and subsequently brought their own horrors along with them. The fear of falling off a world, falling in between the cracks, and finding that negative space has always been a chilling thing to me. The worlds made are a facade, hiding empty skyboxes and blurry textures that bring a sense of unease. Paratopic feels like that the whole time, a facade of a world created to hide that which lurks below. In most games, glitches take the player out of their immersion and can be played for laughs. In this case, Paratopic reminds us that immersion being broken can also be uncomfortable in an underlying terrifying way.

Often with horror, less is more. Our imaginations fill in those blanks with the worst fears, and Paratopic plays in this negative space. It never gives us solid answers, but in only a short time, it leaves you with a sense of unease that lingers long after.


Growing up in a small town, going to school for graphic and web design and finally moving to Toronto, Colin began to look for a new project and landed on Third Person. He has always had a passion for video games and finally decided to do something about it. Inspired by websites like Giant Bomb, Polygon, and Waypoint, Colin has founded Third Person with the intent of covering games using a mix of the old and the new.

Colin loves to dive into RPGs of all kinds, exploring their worlds and developing his character. Well-crafted stories draw him in too, and he is always on the lookout for a new adventure.

When he's not spending a billion years in a game's character creator, he can be found behind his camera, reading comic books or probably sleeping.

Some of his favorite games: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, Alpha Protocol, Mass Effect, Overwatch, Life is Strange, Persona 4