You don't need a president to tell you Nazis are bad, but the big 'what if...?' has haunted many an author, historian or citizen of Planet Earth. What would our world be like had Nazi Germany won the war? Kronolog: The Nazi Paradox, a graphic adventure released in 1993 by Castleworks Gameware, attempts to do just that.
Set in 2020, the games begins by delivering all the major headlines since the end of the war. The axis invented the atomic bomb first and had no qualms in using it to win. Pollution has run riot leaving much of the world in a dire state of decay. Freedom of speech is an ideal long since lost to a fascist elite, ironic considering that's what the so-called Unite the Right marches in real-world America were apparently about.
All of this is initially presented in a chilling normalcy. People have to get on with their lives despite subjugation. Our protagonist is Dr Mark Hoffman, a renowned biochemist and seeming ally to the Nazi regime, begins his day talking business at the NADA (North American Democratic Alliance) Headquarters. It is during this visit to the capitol of Nazi beaurocracy that he learns that his adult son, Philip, has been targeted for termination due to some suspicious resistance deeds in Mexico.
This leads our middle-aged protagonist on a mission of his own. Cue some spy work, Native American mysticism and time travel all in order to save your son - and topple the fascist regime on the side. While it is striking to see the White House adorned with Nazi imagery, the game is surprisingly nuanced at the terrors that would occur. Subjugation is subtle. Fully-voiced conversations do have an odd turn of phrase on occasion that suggests something bigger is going on. Every beaurocrat treats everyone with suspicion and propaganda posters are everywhere. It plants the seeds of what could be a fascinating story, but I can't help but feel it's holding back on the regime's more abhorrent traits. But then this is a game, not social or political commentary.
There's some decidedly awful mechanics and design choices that make you as angry as an encounter with a white nationalist holding a tiki torch (ok, so not that bad). It is frustratingly finicky to do pretty much anything. There's no consistency with how objects are interacted with. Some can be picked up or used directly from the main screen, while other require you to look closer first. Worse still is the unorthodox method of getting around. Everything is cursor-based but unlike almost any other point-n-click adventure from this time, movement is restricted to planes. For example, one would assume that the character would move to wherever you click, but here it only does so on its current plane. To move to something in the foreground, you'd have to click directly below your character. It takes some getting used to, but if you keep this logic in mind it's not game-breaking.
Another major frustration is that every interaction has to be performed directly next to the subject. If you're too far away to speak to a person or press a button, you'll be greeted with a text to say you're too far away. Get too close, and you might risk obscuring the object you want to interact with. It is also particularly precise with how you use the icons. There are only four - walk, talk, look and interact - but there's no shortcut or default position. If you've used that item and now want to walk, the walk icon will still need to be highlighted. It makes it feel like an older game than it actually is.
These valid criticisms lead to a plethora of terrible reviews upon its release. Even now I can see why they are so low, but I pushed on and gave it a chance. I eventually got used to these faults and would probably equate them to holdovers from older games that contemporaries with a bigger budget would've ironed out. What really gets my gall is in the many deaths and dead ends. Approach this game like an old Sierra title and you get the idea - save often. The thing is, death - or capture - isn't often prompted and it's certainly not entertaining like it can be in the Quest series. Enter the wrong room and you're captured. Wait too long at certain moments and it's game over. Didn't pick up that single-pixel coin or buy a Naxi-approved condom and you're now in an unwinnable situation.
It's a shame as these points really do bring the game down. The graphics are nice enough, it has full speech for all conversations (which was a surprise for a floppy only game) and there's some excellent puzzle design. On the flip side, it's prone to the odd crash and slowdown that's not down to emulation, that speech is scratchy making the accompanying text a must if you want to understand anything and it falls for some negative cliches common in graphic adventures - pixel hunts and mazes.
What is also striking considering the controversial imagery throughout the game is that there's no overt demonising of the Nazi regime. They are just there, doing their thing with most everyone you speak to being a secretive resistance fighter or suspicious blue-collar lackey. Even though it's obvious that this is no utopia, there's no true face of the evil either. Basically, this could be any Orwellian-inspired future. And for the European release it was.
Due to Germany's complete ban of Nazi imagery outside of history lessons and museums, Kronolog was retooled as Red Hell. It replaced Nazis for Soviets and the swastika for the hammer and sickle. You are no longer Herr Hoffman, but Professor Constantine and it was the Russians that won the cold war. Everything else is exactly the same so it's up to you which version you'd prefer to play. Here are some screenshots for comparison:
Kronolog (left) and Red Hell (right)
What I take from Kronolog and Red Hell is that it was a game that was way behind its time. Had this been released a few years earlier, the competition's ever refining gameplay wouldn't have highlighted its flaws. Perhaps it was the subject matter which didn't quite fulfill all of its promises. Perhaps, considering current events, it's precisely that that has made me think more deeply about about it. Either way, if you save often and keep a walkthrough close by, you might just like either version of this game. It's not like it's a future that will come to pass anyway... is it?
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Manual and Walkthrough included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 24 Mb. Install Size: 57 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Kronolog: The Nazi Paradox (aka Red Hell) is © Castleworks Gameware
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me