The Samaritan Paradox

Publisher: Screen 7
Developer: Faravid
Year: 2014
Platform: Windows, Linux

Rating: 3

While the 2010s and beyond have really brought back the pixel-art adventure, I don’t think I’ve played any game that mimics it so specifically as does The Samaritan Paradox. From the low resolution graphics to the pop up text boxes that interrupt conversations, I couldn’t stop feeling like I was playing an early 90s Sierra adventure. And while I quite enjoyed this nostalgia trip and some fairly satisfying puzzles, everything flies off the rails near the end which makes this a hard game to recommend.

Set in Sweden in 1984, you play as Ord Salomon, the perpetually stuck PhD student that is desperate for motivation to get going with his life. By chance he gets connected with Sara, the daughter of the late Jonatan Bergwall, an author and social justice crusader who recently took his own life. Jonatan, a huge fan of puzzles and treasure hunts, never could get Sara interested in his hobby. Annoyingly, her inheritance is at the end of a treasure hunt she has no desire to go on. Lucky for her, Ord fancies himself a cryptologist and agrees to help after Sara offers him half of the inheritance.

Naturally, puzzles are the bread and butter here. Ord will work his way through some devilish, multi-step brain-teasers to uncover the mystery Jonatan has left behind. Their success is debatable. Some I figured out quickly and felt a rush of pride. Some I was sure I figured out but the correct solution was slightly different for no obvious reason. And some I felt like I could have stared at for weeks and not made progress. While your mileage may vary, one can confidently say the puzzles fit in with the plot, which has you simultaneously investigating a corrupt arms dealer at the behest of the late Mr. Bergwall.

What was intolerable were some of the puzzles unrelated to the mystery itself. Most infamously, Ord is required to help a store clerk finish a crossword puzzle before he’ll help him. Now, most adventure games have some silly fetch quest like this to lengthen the game. But the reason this one is notorious is that there are at least a half a dozen simple solutions that are not implemented. Ord needs to find information about a character in one of Jonatan’s novels, but every place (and person) in town that would presumably have this information (including Jonatan’s own library!) is a baffling dead end. The real solution makes the rubber duck puzzle from The Longest Journey and the mustache puzzle from Gabriel Knight 3 seem quite fair and ordinary. Though, I must give props to the elaborate puzzle where Ord investigates the local church.

The game mechanics, at least, are simple enough. The two mouse buttons are used to look and interact and the use of inventory is a breeze, including Ord’s notebook. With only a couple of exceptions, Ord doesn’t take much time moving around each screen. I was never frustrated by how the game itself played, until I wanted to save or load or quit the game. The icons for each are terribly confusing and aren’t labeled; the accompany instruction manual explains how to use them, but they never become intuitive and remain annoying throughout.

I was also quite disappointed in the voice acting. Professional voice actors were used extensively, so I think it boiled down to the script and the direction. Most characters came off fairly flat and few of the conversations felt authentic. And some of the more minor voice roles (especially that of the store clerk) felt like caricatures, which are clearly out of place in this dramatic piece.

All of that said, I was still enjoying myself fairly well. As you advance in the game, you obtain pages of Jonatan’s final novel. While Ord reads them, you play out these scenes in a separate fantasy world. I enjoyed these diversions and the different types of puzzles they presented, especially since one puzzle in the real world requires you to first learn about its mechanics in the novel. Unfortunately, this intricate story all leads to one of the worst endings I have ever encountered. Not only does it arrive completely out of left field, it more or less negates the entire story, adds nothing to the narrative, and kind of makes you wish you had never played it in the first place.

So while The Samaritan Paradox does a good job of borrowing some of the best features of historical pixel-art adventures, it sadly borrows some of the worst features as well. As there are so many better examples in the market today, this one should only be played by puzzle enthusiasts who aren’t terribly concerned with the story.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s