How Metroidvania is it? Barely Comparable. You can backtrack to previous levels for some rewards, but otherwise this game could be played just like any other linear first-person shooter
Primary Challenge: Ranged Combat
Time to beat: ~4 hours
Review Info: Paradox Vector was played on a Windows PC with an AMD graphics card using the Steam version
Buy Paradox Vector if you like…
- First Person Shooters
- Unusual Graphical Styles
- Trippy Level Design
- Extremely Dangerous Exploding Enemies
- Strange Otherworldly stories
▼ Review continues below ▼
If you were attracted to Paradox Vector because its store page (currently) has the words “following in the footsteps of Metroid Prime”, I can save you some time by saying that the comparison is very superficial. Paradox Vector isn’t much of a Metroidvania at all. You have the option of going back to earlier levels for useful upgrades, and one of the required upgrades for completing the game is a double jump, but that’s about where the comparisons end. Paradox Vector thus plays more like a Doom mod, except with jumping and some minor platforming. Traditional first-person shooters, things like Halo or the aforementioned Doom, are a genre I have played very little, so when it comes to judging Paradox Vector as a game outside of claiming to be a Metroidvania, I’m something of an outsider. If you’re more of a first person shooter aficionado, then take my opinion within that context. As long as I’m laying my biases out on the table, I should also mention that I played this game using an AMD Radeon R9 200 series graphics card, which Paradox Vector’s Steam store page specifically warns the game has issues with. I did occasionally experience framerate issues, but it never dropped below 30fps, and I don’t believe that the technical problems affected my opinion about the game as a whole. Paradox Vector just isn’t much of a Metroidvania, and in my opinion, it’s a bit of a flawed experience on top of that.
Let’s talk about the level structure first to get it out of the way. You start out in “Dungeon I” where the Metroidvania aspect seems promising. There are locked doors you can’t access, strange looking walls that you’ll find explosives to open up later on, and plenty of rooms you can look into but don’t have the means of getting to at that point. The object of this dungeon, and the eight dungeons following, is to find the “paradox triangle”. Upon picking up the triangle, alarms start blaring, exploding spiders start spawning, and you’re then tasked with escaping as unharmed as possible – although there doesn’t seem to be any actual time limit. Then you’re put into an outside area with several buildings clearly marked on your map as “Dungeon II”, “Dungeon III”, and etcetera until “Dungeon IX” in a separate outside zone. Most dungeons give you some kind of key that let will you access the next dungeon as well as other goodies within the previous dungeons. Sometimes it’s a literal key that slots into keyholes, there’s a bomb that let’s you blow up walls, and there’s also the aforementioned double jump. Essentially, this key setup makes it so you have to play the dungeons strictly in the numbered order. Once you access a dungeon you’re also locked inside until you complete it – no exiting to check out other dungeons until you get the paradox triangle. The only difference between this and a literally linear succession of levels is that once you’re back in the outside zone you can go back to previous dungeons with your new keys to unlock doors and collect health upgrades or ammo limit increases. These upgrades are extremely important for avoiding frustration later on, but thanks to the vector graphics, remembering exactly where you saw every keyhole or bombable wall can be a vexatious challenge. Each dungeon also has only one exit, so once you dive deep back into a dungeon you’ve been to before, it can be a bit of a slog to backtrack out out again. I personally stopped bothering going back to each dungeon, since the experience would basically mean I had to replay the whole thing just to get number increases I may or may not need in lieu of just getting better at the game. The fact that every enemy also respawns when leave an area and come back only exacerbated the feeling of boredom at the thought of doing it all again.
If you decide to play this game, my first piece of advice is to not do what I did – make sure you go back to every level and get every upgrade possible before accessing the final areas. Once you collect the nine triangles, you’re actually only halfway done. At that point Paradox Vector basically sheds any pretense of being a Metroidvania and puts you through some long and combat heavy new dungeons, with no new keys or movement upgrades to offer. I don’t want to suggest that there’s any major drop in quality after the triangles, the dungeon layouts themselves are as good as the first nine dungeons for better or worse. However, if you go into it unprepared you’re going to have a hard time, or you’re going to have to abuse a lot of save scumming to get through it. Worst of all, once you get into it, just like the triangle dungeons, you’re locked inside with no ability to go back and collect the upgrades you missed.
The biggest contributor to the issues with Paradox Vector’s pacing is how the game is extremely stingy with giving you ammo refills. On the surface level it seems like the combat is fairly standard for any first person shooter game – again judging it as a bit of an outsider to the genre. There are some little niggles though that make ammo extremely important. With your basic gun, your bullets don’t travel instantly to where you are aiming. This gives enemies plenty of time to move out of the way, meaning that for moving targets you have to lead your shots. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this design on the surface; if enemies are sufficiently predictable or controllable it can even be really fun. Enemies aren’t always that predictable however, and your gun is actually quite inaccurate. Both the Machine Gun and the first Pistol – the first two weapons you find – will spread their shots out randomly over a small radius around your reticle, rarely hitting exactly where you aim it. This makes hitting objects from a distance a crapshoot, so you either spray and pray, or get dangerously closer to your target to avoid the effects of the spread – which has its own set of issues. The later guns have pinpoint accuracy, but of course that’s only one ammo type in your arsenal. Whether or not enemies give you back ammo when you defeat them is completely random, in a game where there’s a lot of randomness to your shot trajectory. You are thus at the mercy of finding whole guns lying around to give you substantial ammo increases, or you might have to do what I did and just reload a save at every corner to make up for poor performance earlier in the level. This is why the optional ammo increase items are so important to find, because they may represent all the ammo you’ll have for a good long while.
Health increases are also important for the same reasons as ammo. The game does throw a lot more bones in regards to health refills, but it also has a lot of “gotcha” moments that make the benevolence kind of mandatory. A good majority of the enemy types in Paradox Vector explode when they die – and mentioning this seems like a good time to reiterate that two most ammo friendly weapons encourage you to get as close as possible to hit things. Two enemy types in particular are melee based, and will get right up in your face unless you bolt in the opposite direction holding down the run button. Killing them when they’re on top of you makes you take damage anyway from the explosion, on top of the damage you were already taking while they were chewing on you. Kiting enemies can be fun, but many of these enemies are placed where they can jump scare you just around a corner. Developing a strategy where you aggro the enemy and then lure them out where you can more easily dispatch them works fine enough, but without foreknowledge of their locations you sort of have to tip-toe everywhere, which contradicted my focus on navigating the maze-like level design. I feel like with some tweaking all of these systems could be made into something engaging, but based on what Paradox Vector presents, it just feels unfair. In the latest parts of the game I just ran past enemies, and also discovered that when you reload your save file enemies reset their positions and aggro states. This helped a lot when I was at 4 hp with no reprieve in sight.
Paradox Vector’s strongest feature, paradoxically, is its level design. In spite of it failing to deliver on the Metroidvania premise, there are some great moments to be found with its “impossible maze” concept. Some walls are one-way and start out invisible, creating the illusion that the terrain is changing as you progress. Some hallways lead to different vertical levels, which feels equally disorienting and surprising. Paradox Vector is at its best when it messes with your head, and it takes some delightful mind bending to keep track of where you are in the environment. For the most part when Paradox Vector pulls its optical tricks it isn’t in any way that you can’t parse out what happened. It’s confusing, but not insurmountable, which to me is a sign of well-thought out mapping. It is also why I as easily distracted from the hallway muncher enemies though, and there are some stand out parts of the game where the level design takes a nosedive. The one that sticks out the most in my mind is a room with a series of identical looking bridges with bombable walls on each end of them. Of course curiosity is going to have you bombing each alcove, but you have no way of knowing at lies beyond because in this case you can’t have the area’s map until after you’ve completed this section. Some walls had ammo beyond them – but not enough to justify wasting the time bomb to get it – and others have the most powerful monster in the game hiding behind them. Save scumming is just too useful in Paradox Vector.
As with any game with a host of problems, something that can save it is atmosphere and story, and I seem to be always writing these paragraphs at the end of my reviews reporting that the game also doesn’t deliver on that front. So anyway, Paradox Vector doesn’t really deliver when it comes to story or atmosphere. The trippy rule-breaking level design can be great, but as far as ludonarrative goes, Paradox Vector is pretty lacking. Occasionally when you reach a new area, a popup with a bunch of paragraphs describing why you’re there are dumped on you. It’s about as barebones as it gets, hearkening back to the wall of text campaign descriptions of the early nineties. One of the “rewards” you can find as part of the exploration are tablets that might give you some lore. Those tablets are more useful when they give you hints on how to find secrets, since the lore just didn’t grab me. Nothing about how the game played or how the environments were constructed made me curious about how things came to be, so when the expository paragraphs appeared, I found it difficult to be invested.
Paradox Vector overall just isn’t great, and arguably it’s a little just short of even being “good”. However it does present a lot of intriguing concepts and occasionally brilliant level designs. It feels very experimental, and if you like experimenting then I definitely recommend checking it out. I think if the project could have a do-over then the Metroidvania approach is actually a really good idea; they just need to lean into it a lot more and cut the approach that was taken in the second half of the game entirely. The idea of a Metroidvania where your map is unreliable in the face of changing terrain and impossible hallways could be amazing. Putting the emphasis on the exploration instead of facing off with enemies, you might even be able to omit the weapons and shooting entirely while still having an incredibly engaging game. Paradox Vector isn’t a great exploration experience as-is, but it does have inspiring moments that could be realized into something far greater. That makes it unique enough that it at least deserves some attention.
Everything works fine mechanically, but the level design in combination with exploding enemies and low ammo rewards starts to get ridiculous in the late game
Platforming actually works fairly well, but definitely isn't a main feature, just an occasional necessity
Levels layouts are more conducive of a more linear first person shooter rather than a Metroidvania style game
There aren't really any puzzles in this game, with one notable exception if you count it
The presentation of the story is fairly barebones. It's completely conveyed with text and it feels barely relevant to the ludonarrative
The vector graphics do have a distinct style but it does make environments feel very samey
The music is as minimalist as the graphics, however that sense of style doesn't seem to translate as well into sound
A hard mode unlocks once you beat the game, but besides that self-imposed challenges are going to be the main draw for replays
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