Previewed by Dennis Sloutsky
Future. The year is 323 of the New Era. There haven't been any wars or major conflicts for centuries. Or at least that's what they tell you. Life on Earth is calm and peaceful. Man has reached the stars and colonized Mars. He also developed CyberBrain - the super computer that now controls the world. There are no more different governments - Earth is united under CyberBrain, that calculates everything and makes the right decisions. Or at least that's what they tell you. CyberBrain has introduced a new networked style of life - people no longer have sex, go fishing or play sports in the real world - they do it inside the universal network called Cyberspace. While machines do most of the work. And everyone loves it. Or at least that's what they tell you. While on the other side, the birth rates have gradually declined over the years, and a general loss of IQ is noticed everywhere, as a direct result of people living happy lives in the Cyberspace. Humanity is on the edge of extinction... Corporate world dominates the Earth, and even though the government wants you to believe that all is nice and dandy, there are various gang and resistance groups that are fighting the police and the army, as well as each other. Gang wars are going on everywhere - but it's not as if people actually notice them, tucked away in their comfortable Cyberspace...
You are a Hacker, a 27 year old male, with an higher than average IQ and a lot of experience with computers and networks. You were probably destined to be one of THEM, the big people in the government that control the things. But you're not one of them. You are rebellious and anti-social. You don't like the new style of life. So you also find your escape inside the Network - but in another form. You find loopholes in the network and eavesdrop on other people and government agencies. This has already cost you your job as a system administrator, caused a prior indictment and then next time you're caught your mind will probably be "re-programmed" or you will be sent to one of those new underwater cities where government holds those who oppose it. But that doesn't stop you. You're still lurking inside Cyberspace and looking for new information that is not accessible to the public. One day, while going through history files related to the Mars Rebellion inside a restricted government site, you find some sort of an encrypted and probably very secret government transmission - not like you haven't done it before. But in a matter of a few minutes you find yourself surrounded by the police inside your house. As you look at them through your camera surveillance system, SWAT team breaks down your front door and rushes inside. At this point you realize that you might've gone a bit too far this time, and decide to flee your apartment, while still managing to copy the encrypted transmission to a crystal memory block... Now you're out on the street, all alone, eluding the cops and trying to find some answers. Welcome to Paradise Cracked...
The world of Paradise Cracked was largely influenced by such movies as Matrix, Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, as well as novels of Philip K. Dick and various other cyberpunk writers. It actually has one of the most interesting plots ever - but I won't give it away just yet. The game's genre can be called tactical RPG, drawing some of its best features from such games as X-Com, Jagged Alliance, Incubation and Fallout.
In Paradise Cracked, you take control over your main character (Hacker) and as you progress through the game, other characters will join your party, each with his own unique skills and abilities. For example, Hacker can break into bank machines, as well as other electronic devices, while some other characters might be extremely good with advanced weaponry and so on. In the tradition of RPG games, your characters will be able to gain experience and increase their levels, which will give you better stats and unlock better weapons and equipment for you to use. Speaking of the weapons, there are a lot of them, each having different stats, requirements and even different ammo types available to use. There is also special equipment that you could find, buy or receive by completing special quests. As well, there are body implants that you could permanently attach to your characters; some will increase the regeneration rate, while others will improve intelligence, strength, viewing distance and more. When you actually buy any of the above in a store, you'd have to select where you want to purchase them carefully, as every store usually has a different price for every item. There are also vehicles that you could drive in the game, ranging from simple cars to heave assault tanks that you could 'borrow' from the military.
The game is completely turn based, which means that there is no real-time control over your character. Each turn your characters will be assigned a number of movement points, which are directly affected by their strength and other stats. Each "faction" in the game, and there are a lot of them, will be assigned its own turn, during which they'll be able to move around, shoot, use equipment and more. What I'd have to say, is that there are many different gang factions, trade factions, NPCs and different police forces in the game - and they have their own allies and enemies. Which means you will often see gang vs. police or gang vs. gang fights on the streets of the cities, where you could either join in the fight on one of the rivaling side's behalf and change its outcome. While obviously, there's no sense in helping the cops that hunt you down, it might be useful to offer help to local gang or resistance members that are fighting the police in order to be "safer" and gain some extra experience, instead of walking away from he fight. The story line is dynamic, which means that there are potentially many ways for you to finish the game; often you'll be offered to join one of the rivaling factions and give your allegiance to them, but this will obviously turn some of the other factions against you, so you have to plan that carefully. But even if you're not involved with any of the factions, you will still witness them patrol their areas and fight each other, even if you choose not to intervene.
There are a lot of different game areas to discover, each one usually having its own characters and gangs specific to the area. There are also a lot of sub-quests in the game, where you could help people or factions and gain money, experience, weapons or other equipment for successfully completing them. And yet again, you have the ability to choose which quests you want to complete, so you would not turn the other factions against you. For example, at the beginning of the game a black guy asks you to help him free his son that is being held captive by the Trade Syndicate. If you choose to agree to aid him, he will temporarily join your party (until his son is freed), will give you a machine gun upon joining your party and experience upon completion of the quest. That all seems good and dandy, but he will still leave you after you help him free his son and in the process of the quest you'd have to kill the Trade Syndicate security chief, which will obviously turn them into your enemies. So you always have to carefully choose what you want to do and with whom you want to be allied.
The graphics are fully 3D, with multiple camera angles to select from, and zooming abilities. The game is made in a film-noire environment. There are quite a lot of character animations, and the engine is quite scalable, so I've managed to run the game on both my old k6-2 machine and my newer Athlon-class box. The encivornment can be manipulated, which means you could break diffeent objects and see debree from them lying on the ground (a-la Red Faction).
The game has one of the coolest soundtracks that I've heard in ages. The music is electronic and it changes upon the situation you're in. It ranges from dreamy techno tracks while exploring levels to rock&rave during close combat with your enemies. It really helps boost up the cyberpunk atmosphere. Furthermore, there are a lot of voiceovers used in the game. As I've played the Russian beta version (and being Russian myself), I obviously can't tell you what the English version will sound like, but the speech in Russian version had some of the most humorous, funny and witty comments I've ever heard in a game, beating by a long mile all other games I've ever played. Not only the characters tend to say hilarious things when you command them to do something (example: one of the standard Hacker responses is "Like to download 2 bytes" when asked to do something), but the NPC speech is also extremely well done and varied, and characters on the streets often speak without even being spoken to. I just hope the English version will have the same voice talents, as it'd be a shame if it didn't.
Overall Paradise Cracked is really an unique experience, and one that many of us computer game freaks will be easily attached to. With its strong influences by many of the cult computer-related movies and books out there it'll be sure to touch your heart if you're a computer enthusiast. The gameplay is really fun and sophisticated at the same time, while the non-linear storyline guarantees a long replay value. The music is some of the best I've heard in ages (at least according to my taste), while the voice-overs add a lot of hilarious bits to the game. With the game to be completed really soon and to be published outside of Russia in a matter of probably a few months, this is certainly the one thing to watch out for if you ever were an X-Com addict and like cyberpunk. After all, the games based on Matrix movie license aren't due for quite some time still... And while you're waiting for it, make sure to read our interview with the game's developers.