“What’s going on?” asks Dr. River Elea Catherine Jones as she’s being sucked into pillars of sporadic light in the game named after her.
Countless times during a brutally boring and confusing four hours, I was asking myself that same question. And my tired eyes and disappointed spirits weren’t worth getting an answer to that question. Click to read more about what we thought of Elea: Paradigm Shift for Nintendo Switch.
Elea: Paradigm Shift
Developed by Kyodai
Published by Kyodai
Released: 8th February 2020
Elea: Paradigm Shift’s air of sci-fi mystique intrigued me from the start. However, I began to feel betrayed early on by an unpolished and unfinished experiment, and by the time Paradigm Shift was through, I didn’t want to play any video game for a good while.
Two core developers — Ivaylo Koralsky and Todor Todorov — created this indie Unreal Engine project on the solid foundation of several science fiction inspirations, including famous novels and films. With an eye-catching logo seemingly steeped in the familiar loneliness of Bioshock and the lingering regret of Firewatch, I felt an eerie foreboding when I started to play Elea: Paradigm Shift. It was a feeling I liked for the first thirty minutes or so.
Sure, the physics were janky and the main character’s movement was incredibly slow from the very beginning. But I felt a real connection to the sense of unease with which Elea began her journey.
The more I played, however, the more most aspects of the story felt underdeveloped and squandered due to massive narrative gaps, puzzling design decisions and subpar voice acting. But the gameplay was the one element of Elea: Paradigm Shift that truly pushed me over the edge.
Why Is This A Game?
I felt myself asking, “Why is this a game?” many times throughout my playtime. Every single instance the player is supposed to take control of Elea, bewildering game design follows.
The only legitimate things you can do in Elea: Paradigm Shift are walking and interacting with basic objects. That can be just fine. Firewatch featured mostly just those two functions of gameplay, and I adored that game’s commitment to making the player feel more engaged with the story. Elea (which eventually reveals it has little compelling narrative to speak of) falters the most when it tries to be a game. Everything from walking to picking up a coffee cup feels sluggish. Frame rate drops are a near constant nag, which does the at-times impressive visuals little justice.
Having a normal compromised control scheme would be one thing. But it’s what the player is expected to do with said awful controls that really irritated me. Over a dozen times in this short game, I was left not knowing at all what to do. There were hardly ever any real puzzles to solve. For example, in the clip above, I was walking around for minutes until I apparently stared at the exact pixel of water I was supposed to look at, which finally triggered the uninspired dream sequence of the early game to continue.
During another scenario, the game’s first-person perspective warped me away from the version of Elea I was actually controlling. I — as in, my camera — was put behind some cloudy glass and was supposed to navigate Elea around various pieces of space furniture I couldn’t see in order to progress the game even further. If it wasn’t for mind-boggling design choices like these, I would have finished Elea: Paradigm Shift in two hours instead of four.
Oftentimes, it became hard to distinguish between game-breaking glitches and game elements that were created to pass as trippy sci-fi mumbo jumbo. The story very loosely tied the elements of the actual plot together with the game mechanics, so I just ended up feeling like the narrative was pretentious and the gameplay was some of the worst I’d ever experienced in gaming.
Either way, both elements didn’t feel very thought out to me.
Trying to Focus on Something Good
It became a real struggle to find something worth praising by the end of Elea: Paradigm Shift. The finale crashed mid-sequence three times, causing me to have to restart my game. An anti-gravity and fight mechanic were thrown in without any explanation and were both used only once, causing me to have to replay ending scenarios dozens of mind-numbing times after each death.
The music in Elea: Paradigm Shift is the most salvageable and redeemable factor. Its haunting, repetitious tones tried their best to give this game some sort of atmosphere. It’s too bad that flat writing, horrible voice acting and uninspired and underdeveloped concepts took that all away.
Leslie Fleming-Mitchell does an all-right job of portraying Elea, but unfortunately for the actress, Elea doesn’t have much of an emotional range beyond expressing shock and brooding sadness. It’s a game that’s trying to be sobering, but instead of showing you why you should be sad, it tells you why through incessant monologuing.
One thing that isn’t very clear during the actual game is that Paradigm Shift is actually the first episode in a larger story. I only discovered more story was in development by doing more research, but the average player is unlikely to realize that their lack of a resolution is purposeful. Released in such poor condition, Elea feels even more cheap in the fact that $7.99 USD isn’t enough to even get a climax out of the meandering tale of existential woe.
Elea feels even more pretentious and desperate to impress during its “mindscape” sequences. Flashing lights of every neon color throb and vibrate. The TV screen becomes an absolute visual nightmare for minutes on end, and I can’t even begin to fathom why most of these images are even in the game. I’m all for creativity, but not at the expense of physical strain. I’ve never been sensitive to flashing lights, but even I wanted to look away every time Elea: Paradigm Shift wanted to be daring.
Simply put, Elea is as hollow of a game as the character is empty. There’s no gameplay features to actually enjoy. The visuals are usually nauseating, and the lofty narrative of finding humanity’s place in the universe is destroyed by a severe misunderstanding of how good stories are told.
Final Rating – 1 out of 5
Elea: Paradigm Shift is available to play on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. Maybe… find something else to play.
I’ve been playing Nintendo games since I was 3 years old, and my earliest memory is watching my dad play Super Mario 64.
Since then, I’ve become as big of a fan as you might imagine: YouTube video projects, fan fiction, owning just about every amiibo — you name it!
I’m also a stalwart defender of underappreciated games like Skyward Sword, Other M, Super Paper Mario, Star Fox Adventures, Star Fox Zero and more. I love to see passion in a gaming product, and my desire on this site is to share a similar passion in what I write.