I read stuff in the IF Comp that I just don’t read anywhere else, and this game is a perfect example. You start out, apparently, as a junk-food obsessed child, whose mission in life is to find and eat candy. Then suddenly, a horde of screaming authority figures pops up. After a short, dreamlike sequence, you end up in an island prison, where everything is dark, rusted, and filthy. A stranger wanders in, offers an implement of violence, and wanders out again. Your escape process includes expedients ranging from the obvious (a message in a bottle) to the rather surprising (self-mutilation and brutal murder). Then some puzzly stuff, more dreamlike unreality, more screaming authority figures, more obvious escape techniques, more grime, an enormous phallus, an overwhelming ocean, and eventual success tinged with isolation. In short, it’s quite a bit like wandering around inside the id of a mentally and emotionally stunted paranoid psychopath.
If this effect served some artistic purpose, or indeed if it even seemed intentional, there might be a lot to admire about it. Alas, this is not the case with Concrete Paradise. Instead, the game feels like a stream-of-consciousness exercise, in which the PC is placed in one stock situation after another, whose solutions range from the extremely obvious to the head-scratchingly odd. There are a lot of telegraphed puzzles, by which I mean that the game tells you early on how to escape a particular situation, and then when you are in that situation, you escape it with the recommended method. Other puzzles involve waiting around doing nothing in particular until the game solves the puzzle for you. The storyline veers wildly from innocent childhood hijinks to some very dark stuff indeed, but never seems to have any overarching plan or direction in mind.
Most of the time, games with this sort of schizophrenic, unconscious tone tend to be riddled with errors, and this game is no exception. The “about” text makes an emphatic point about how the game has been tested on a variety of TADS interpreters, but one wonders whether that time might have been better spent ferreting out the numerous spelling and grammar errors, not to mention the programming bugs. Guess-the-verb problems abound, along with actions that prompt no response, actions that can be done repeatedly without cumulative effect, and other classics. Even if none of these technical problems were present, though, this still wouldn’t be a good game. A good candidate for psychoanalysis, maybe, but not a good game.