When was the last time you found yourself stranded and confused in Africa? Paradise, the latest point-and-click adventure from the creator of the cult hit Syberia, gives you that chance. Having been shot down over the country of Maurania, a young woman awakens with amnesia in the harem of a local prince. Not knowing her own real name, she calls herself "Ann Smith" after the author of a book on Mauranian wildlife that was found with her at the crash.
And this, really, is where the problems start. Ann's true identity is no mystery whatsoever - in fact, it's explicitly revealed in the game's opening cutscene. Once you discover why she's in Maurania, her amnesia hasn't made any difference; the game's events would have been roughly the same whether with or without her memory. Actually, without spoiling anything, not suffering amnesia might have made things a bit more exciting. It's symptomatic of the game as a whole, which sometimes throws in unnecessary complications for no good reason. It's also why an epic adventure that takes you to palaces, villages and emerald mines to return a black leopard to its home and beyond never feels as good or exciting as it should be.
Mind you, the game still looks and sounds incredible. Consistently high production values and an impressive level of detail only support the old cliche that French developers make games with style. Everything from the creature design to the natives' dialect feels strangely believable. Simple, effective musical phrases sets the mood while the voice acting is a sharp cut above average.
While the interface and animated cursor are about as slick an example as you're likely to find in point-and-click adventure gameplay, it's practically guaranteed that you're going to be stumped at various points because you missed some tiny little spot where the cursor changed. That's an acceptable, genre-specific annoyance, but the handful of sequences in which Ann goes to sleep and you control the leopard are, for the most part, exercises in frustration. The big cat gets hung up on stuff in the background all too easily, leaving you to scoot the mouse pointer around, trying to get him unstuck. Worse, with very few exceptions, you never accomplish anything with the leopard either, beyond getting from point A to point B and ending the sequence. It's kind of a waste.
Paradise is a beautiful game, and while a few of the puzzles are way more convoluted than necessary (one inexplicably involves bungee-jumping), they're fairly logical once you've pixel hunted what you need to find. The game isn't especially long but it's reasonably entertaining, even when you can hear the misfires going on behind the monitor. It's good - it just isn't as good as it should be.