What is it? A stylish freeform detective game that takes place on a bizarre island of love and betrayal.
Reviewed on: AMD Ryzen 7 1800X, 16 GB RAM
Out: September 4
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Developer: Kaizen Game Works
Link: Official site (opens in new tab)
Paradise Killer is a detective game where you're free to investigate on your own terms. That's my favorite thing about it: I explored its eco-brutalist structures, speculated, and accused its hyper-eccentric characters at my own pace, of my own volition, based on the evidence that I found, without ever being pushed in a particular direction. During the final hour, I had to play prosecutor at a trial and use all of the evidence, testimonials, and information I'd gathered to nail the culprit (or culprits?) of a brutal killing spree. As I went over my notes, I felt like I'd really accomplished something. Paradise Killer gave me a sense of freedom that I've never felt in a detective game.
Where most investigation sections in games are guided experiences that lead players down a path with answers at the end, Paradise Killer is open ended. When you pick up evidence, it automatically links itself to relevant parties in your files. If there aren't any clear links, it goes into an unsorted pile that's unusable at the final trial unless you find out how it connects to someone. That system made contemplate things like motives and plausibility. I went back and re-interviewed subjects with new knowledge to see if they'd slip up and tell me something they shouldn't. I had to be curious and hone my detective skills, and when I finally completed the trial, I genuinely felt like I'd earned my satisfying conclusion.
Trouble in Paradise
There's one main crime to crack in Paradise Killer, but there are a bunch of related crimes to solve, too, and I liked that I could prioritize searching for dirt on the cases and people that I found intriguing. It meant that, by the end of the game, the plotlines I cared about the most were the ones that ended up being fleshed out the deepest.
Paradise Killer takes place on an ideal tropical island that is dripping in style. The inhabitants worship alien gods and sacrifice humans in annual attempts to summon them. They've tried 24 times on 24 different islands and it never works. They always accidentally summon demons. But this next island is supposedly going to be different. It's supposed to be the perfect one. It's a bizarre setting for a game that forces you to buy into a lot of zaniness, but it's fun.
You play as Lady Love Dies, an infamous "investigation freak" who's been called down from exile after the island's highest officials were murdered on the night before they transitioned to the new, perfect island. It's up to you to figure out who did this, why they did this, and how. You'll need to interrogate key figures, solve hieroglyph puzzles for hidden information, and gather evidence with your computer sidekick as you explore the island to ultimately convict anyone and everyone responsible for the heinous act.
Paradise Killer rewards exploration. I spent most of my time traversing Paradise's boroughs, taking in the lush scenery, picking up collectibles and Blood Crystals, the main currency used for fast travelling and buying things like black market secrets. There's a lot of walking around, which is relaxing, especially once you start picking up cassette tapes. The soundtrack features some fantastic music: a groovy mesh of city pop, ambient jazz, and disco. Sometimes I would take breaks from the pressing murder mystery to chill by the beach, admiring this alternate reality and its otherworldly bops.
There are secrets in every nook and cranny of the map, and no matter where I decided to go I was either making progress with the narrative or finding more context about the game's offbeat world. I never stressed about evidence, because curiously platforming around and checking out the scenery always led to discovery. There was one time I fell off of a building onto some rocks by the water, and I was briefly upset that I'd have to climb my way back onto the island. But as I was walking back up I found a rusty knife that seemed to be conveniently tossed away from the scene of the crime. I logged it in the investigation, and I saw that it connected multiple people that I didn't even think of suspecting to the case. A whole new conspiracy plot unravelled in front of me, I put a pin in the leads I was investigating and dropped everything to find out more about that. It's the freedom to uncover those unexpected mysteries in unorthodox ways that makes Paradise Killer stand out as a detective game.
Trust is fleeting
Paradise Killer is populated by some truly fascinating characters. The 2.5D character models stand out around the map, and interacting with them switches things into visual novel mode. Chatting with the characters is fun. There's a typewriter noise that plays as the text pops up, and the smooth click-clacks do a great job at centering your attention on the dialogue without being a nuisance. You can gossip and interrogate each character on a whim, and a lot of the game is running around between them corroborating their stories. It actually feels like any one of them could have committed the crime, and that breadth of possibility is both exciting and nerve wracking to think about as an investigator.
I love how Paradise Killer lays out all the potential suspects, makes you suspicious of all of them, and then lets you decide how to handle the situation your way. I had a nice time talking to Carmelina, the head architect of the island. I think she hates Lady Love Dies, but even when I ran out of case files to ask her about, she gossiped about all of the other characters, offering a glimpse at the bigger picture of the island's mysteries. The narratives in Paradise Killer are complex and intertwined in ways that are astonishing; characters have motivations and rich interpersonal histories that you can easily miss if you aren't paying attention. Spending time with the cool freaks on the island reveals a messy web of politics.
The pace lulled a couple times, but that's a pitfall of allowing players to pursue any lead they want. Paradise Killer hooked me so well that it didn't matter: Even when I wasn't playing it I was thinking about it in the back of my mind. Who did this? How did they even pull this off? Why are people lying to me? Paradise Killer never tells you if your evidence is enough to prove the truth. Even when it's time for the trial, you don't really know.
I spent about 10 hours waltzing around Paradise, and by the end there were still a couple plotlines I felt like I hadn't dug into enough. I rarely replay games, but I'm already booting up another playthrough of this one. The charmingly convoluted mysteries and personalities that I stumbled upon on my island adventure had an amazing intensity to them that made me never want to leave its weird world of vaporwave, demons, and betrayal. Paradise Killer sets a new standard for investigative gameplay; I felt untethered and invested in the world's mysteries in a way I've never felt in a detective game before. The neon sheen, fantastic soundtrack, quirky characters, and narrative twists make it one of the best whodunits you can play.