Escape from Paradise City Review (PC)

In 2004, Denmark-based developer MediaMobsters released Gangland, a title that attempted to combine RPG elements with real time strategy and squeeze in a crime-centric plot, as was popular at the time. While the game was praised for its concept, many felt that the game suffered from heavy repetition due to a lack of variety in its mission objectives. Gangland failed to catch the eye of critics, but found a niche amongst the PC audience. MediaMobsters is now known as Sirius Games, and has just released Escape from Paradise City, which just happens to be a spiritual sequel to Gangland.

Angel struts her stuff on the street corner
Not all neighbourhoods in Paradise City are particularly nice

Paradise City is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, where mobs and gangs fight for control of the city’s neighbourhoods and resources. Gangland had players vying for control of Paradise City, but now Escape from Paradise City has players doing the exact opposite – cleaning up the troubled metropolis.

Agent Kovacs of the NSA has recruited three people with rather colourful criminal records to infiltrate the gangs of Paradise city- Nick Porter, a retired thief, Angel Vargas, an underground fighter and Boris Chekov, a corrupt undercover policeman. In exchange for this little job, Kovacs has promised each a full pardon and their freedom. It sounds all well and good, but the plot of Escape from Paradise City is actually quite disconnected from the gameplay.

There are 16 different missions in Escape from Paradise City, and players will control one of the three different characters in each one. It’s a bit unfortunate that there is no choice of character in the game, given how distinctly different they are – Nick is your no-nonsense gun man, Angel is good for close encounters and Boris is best in situations that call for large numbers. The first mission is meant to act as a tutorial level, but it doesn’t really serve its intended purpose by often missing vital points about what a player is meant to do in certain situations. Nevertheless, it’s reasonably easy to figure out what needs to be done to complete each mission.

The same RTS/RPG hybrid gameplay featured in Gangland returns for Escape from Paradise City; the basic control functions are handled much like a typical strategy game, but players can manage their character’s skills and abilities much like an RPG. When a character levels up players can allocate points to the usual basic skills like strength and agility, and spend points on abilities from their skill tree. The game does impose a level cap, so one can forget about spending lots of time on the early levels to strengthen their characters for later missions.

Each mission follows a fairly basic formula which will have players attempting to capture neighbourhood territories, taking out a specific person, or searching for an item that the NSA needs. With turf wars, one must find and beat the snot out of the boss and he’ll hand the neighbourhood over to the player’s character. Regular thugs and bosses in these instances present little threat to the player’s character, thus making the game seem a whole lot easier than it should be.

There’s nothing like a shootout in the middle of a street during daylight
Nick shows us that sometimes you can succeed when bringing a knife to a gun fight

Things get a little more complicated when a neighbourhood is contested, as the enemies will be a whole lot tougher and the boss won’t give up so easily. In these instances, players will need to take over the easier surrounding neighbourhoods, recruit thugs of their own, and search out thugs hidden in back alleys that will have little tasks that will reward one with some points to spend on skills. Attacking thugs in a contested neighbourhood will often result in said opponent running off to get backup. Unfortunately, as the player’s character is so much stronger, this proves to be a minor annoyance - the game allows the player to just charge into enemy territory, rather than making one take a more clandestine approach.

The thing that really brings Escape from Paradise City down is the user interface. As previously mentioned, the game’s tutorial is terrible, so players will spend at least the first 10 minutes of the game fumbling their way through the interface trying to find simple things such as the inventory section or recruitment screen. The camera is especially finicky, and despite the fact that two distinctly different play perspectives are available, neither really does a satisfactory job. There are also a bunch of minor issues with the game’s control – if the player clicks on a thug who later runs away, their character will not automatically give chase; the player will have to continuously click on the thug until their character reaches him.

In the 16 missions that Escape from Paradise City offers, players are bound to find that the game doesn’t deliver much in the way of variety, nor does it really do a spectacular job of either its strategy or its RPG components. That’s not to say that the game is bad or broken, it’s just not as good as it could be. If one can get over the way the game plays, then they’re in for at least 10 hours worth of single player playtime.

For those that prefer to play with friends, the game supports up to eight players in multiplayer action. There are thirteen different maps and three game types. The multiplayer side of the game does eliminate some of the balance issues and daft AI problems of the solo experience, but the big problem seems to be that there’s little in the way of interest in the game online – only three other players were on the European servers during our playtesting.

Sirius Games has done a reasonably impressive job of bringing Paradise City to life – pedestrians walk down the sidewalks and converse with each other, and traffic pours down the roads. It’s not really as alive as it could be, but it’s much better than having every borough resemble a ghost town. Escape from Paradise City is satisfactory on a technical level and the game will run reasonably well in high resolution with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering on medium to low range PCs. The game’s sound is rather average; there are some nice sound effects, but the music and voice acting are forgettable at best.

The best way to shut down a hotel is to kill all of its potential customers
The future of console fanboy wars

Escape from Paradise City attempts to combine strategy games and RPGs, but does so in a most unspectacular manner. Many minor design issues really hold back what could have been an intriguing title; bad user interface, balancing issues, lack of mission variety, bad camera – one could go on and on. The multiplayer side of the game is a little more entertaining, but the lack of opponents is a major drawback. Still, for starved strategy gamers looking for something a little different, Escape from Paradise City might be worth a look, albeit at a budget price.

Top Game Moment:
Using Boris to convince a number of thugs to join him and then leading them to their death in a turf battle.