Let's invent a new game category: the MOL game: more or less. Escape from Paradise City is a great MOL game. Are the graphics and design effective? More or less. Are the RPG and RTS elements blended successfully? More or less. Is the game, ultimately, worth the player's time? MOL. You get the idea.
CDV's Escape from Paradise City cribs a bit from the Diablo series, cops a few plays from Grand Theft Auto and Crackdown, and borrows heavily from RPG/RTS hybrids like Spellforce and Warcraft 3. Because of the setting--a modern, gritty, corrupt city--it doesn't feel quite as derivative as it sounds. We all appreciate a break from the swords and sorcery milieu, even if ultimately the setting lacks variety and becomes monotonous not very far into the game.
Primarily an RPG, the player controls one of three main characters, each with different strengths: an ex-con, a street thug, and an ex-FBI agent, all recruited (i.e. blackmailed) by a secret government agency to clean up the mean streets of Paradise City. Is this premise a little hackneyed? MOL, and it isn't helped but some really amateurish writing. Games like Escape from Paradise City really suffer in comparison to the triple A titles where real, professional writers script the dialogue and set the scene with effective prose.
So, in true RPG fashion, you earn money and experience and develop your character's skills, abilities, weapons, and talents--some of them coming out of sci-fi land--and in RTS fashion, assign gangers and henchmen to attack, patrol or guard locations and bits of territory. Unlike some RPGs, though, character upgrades are unlocked at the end of missions, which does provide some incentive for continued play. This system also means that some poor choices in character development make some levels quite frustrating.
Are the missions and levels all the same? MOL. While the challenge and difficulty ramp up as the game progresses and the characters develop, most missions consist of clearing a sector of bad guys, holding the territory, and finally defeating a boss somewhere on the map. Repetitive mission structure is not a new issue for RPGs or RTS games--in fact, it's a rare game that tackles the problem successfully. In Escape from Paradise City the problem is amplified by the setting, which is equally unvarying.
Despite the low-budget, downright ugly box and manual art, Escape from Paradise City isn't a bad-looking game at all. There is a lot of detail and the day and night and weather cycles add a lot of atmosphere. The city feels alive and it's a fun sandbox to play in, at least until the setting becomes tiresome. The camera is fluid and easy to control (there is an "RTS" view and an over-the-shoulder, third person view), and while the UI feels low-rent, it's not a deal breaker.
Sounds and music play a relatively minor role in the game. There is little music and sounds are linked to the view, so when the camera is pulled out very far, sounds and voices are quiet. The voice acting? MOL effective, again given the sub-par quality of the writing.
I had a strange reaction when I started playing this game. In the first few seconds, you are tasked with killing a ganger standing a few feet away on the street corner. And, in fact, the majority of the game consists of killing people, not orcs or zombies or mutants. I guess I've gotten used to games that have at least attempted to provide me with some motivation for my character's actions, a little moral complexity, so this instant mindless killing bothered me a little. This dude was just standing there.
There is a multiplayer mode, where players can battle for and hold sectors, but I was unable to find online competition. I imagine the multiplayer aspect would be far less repetitive than the single player campaign.
In the vast gulf between the triple A games and the shovelware that goes direct to the bargain bin lie MOL games like Escape from Paradise City. It's more or less fun, more or less good looking, and more or less better than you'd guess from looking at the fuzzy box art. If a little more attention had been paid to the writing, if the missions had been a a bit less repetitive, and the setting a more varied, Escape from Paradise City could have a been a real winner instead of the "more or less poster child" it is.
Sound and Music: 5