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 the 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 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... 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 the game, 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 – different weapon categories are effective for different ranges, and so forth. 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. Alternatively you can pick up some of those things off the enemies' dead bodies – which is definitely cheaper, but doesn't guarantee much choice. There are also vehicles that you could drive in the game, ranging from simple cars to heavy assault tanks that you could 'borrow' from the military.
The game is completely turn based, which means that there is no real-time control at any time over your character – and that's probably its biggest flaw. Unlike Jagged Alliance series, where Turn Based moves were used only in combat mode, in Paradise Cracked each turn your characters will be assigned a number of movement points, which are directly affected by their strength and other stats – and the playing area is basically separated into hexagonal squares, on which you can move. 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. The problem is that even when turning their animations off the game still seems to take too much time to calculate them – and if you just want to go to that NPC that stands at the other corner of the playfield, you'll still need to keep clicking the “End Turn” button and let the enemies / NPCs take their turns. What I'd have to say however, 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 weird thing, however, is that there seems to be no way to “clean up” an area completely – after spending a lot of time eliminating all opposition in one place, walking into a shop to buy more ammo, and walking out, you might find yourself surrounded by enemies, that just happened to mysteriously materialize in the area.
The plot is non-linear, which means that you're free to choose your own quests and sub-quests, and there are often more ways than one to go to the next episode; 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 four interconnected episodes in the game, hence a lot of different game areas to discover, each one usually having its own characters and gangs specific to the area. There is no possibility to come back to previous locations once you've ended an episode, hence it's recommended to spend some time observing every 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.
Paradise Cracked's interface is well done, and rather easy to get used to. Everything is laid out logically, and you can be sure that you won't miss the enemy's movement even if you've disabled its replay – all thanks to the events log. Video cinematics are nothing to write home about, but yet they're not bad either – some of them are actually somewhat impressive. The graphics themselves are fully 3D, with multiple camera angles to select from, and zooming abilities. The game is made in a film-noire environment. The environment can be manipulated, which means you could break different objects and see debris from them lying on the ground (a-la Red Faction).
There is nothing particularly wrong with the graphics – but the engine is really starting to show its age, as the game was originally released in Russia over a year ago. The downside is that it doesn't really look as pretty anymore, but the upside is that it doesn't require a fast machine to be played - I've managed to run the game on both my old k6-2 machine and my newer Athlon-class box. And as if it wasn't enough, the engine is quite scalable through the Options menu.
The levels are generally well constructed, but some of them simply don't look too cyberpunk, and detract from the overall atmosphere. The characters look more up to par with the storyline, but their movement animations deserve to be better, and more polygons in the models definitely wouldn't hurt. The blood/gore effect doesn't look good at all, and way too cartoonish. Overall, while the graphics cut it for this type of game, it's no Silent Storm
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. There are a lot of voiceovers used in the game, however the actors are rather mediocre, and some of their phrases seem to be poorly translated from Russian to English, and have lost their charm. And hearing the Hacker say “Biorhythm” every time he's commanded to do something can get annoying after a while. The gunshot sounds, while not exceptional, do their trick. There's also some background noise and chatter – all of that is done well, although more variety wouldn't hurt.
Paradise Cracked is a decent attempt at creating a turn based cyberpunk game. Its strengths include an interesting storyline, well executed RPG elements, non-linear gameplay, and an awesome soundtrack. And 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 downsides include subpar voice casting, slow gameplay and rather dated by today's standards graphics. I wouldn't recommend it just to anyone – but fans of turn based strategy and RPG games might find a hidden gem here.