Developer Black Shamrock and Cyanide Studios released their CRPG Paranoia Happiness is Mandatory on PC late last year. The release seemed liked a muted affair with little-to-no marketing behind it. So if you missed it, it’s available now via the Epic Games Store. We saw the game in action earlier in 2019 during our visit to Gamescom and came away impressed. However, now we have had time to fully digest the full retail game is it worthy of your time?
To set the basic premise, your character or should we say clones live in an AI controlled setting called Alpha Complex. A harmonious, idyllic yet controlled setting if ever there was one. The AI called “Friend Computer” rules with an iron-fist. Step out-of-line by breaking one of many rules-and-regulations or even speak out-of-turn and it’s clone zapping time using one of your valuable lives. However, clones aren’t an unlimited resource which means after three or four clones it’s game-over for anyone concerned.
Your character is one such inhabitant of Alpha Complex and begins the game by finding one’s feet and immediately enlisted into the Troubleshooters – essentially the police force of Alpha Complex. Under the instruction of Friend Computer and with the aid of three companions it is your job to dive deep into the complexities of Alpha Complex. Your character must weed-out any potential insurgence and other oddities which disrupt the overall flow and well-being of this utopian society.
During the opening moments, players can select various skills by spending limited points. The more times your character clones the more points become available. Each time, you’re at liberty to mix-things-up a little to suit your play-style. From the offset it’s clear a text-heavy focus with multiple responses makes up a part of the gameplay. Select skills allow for more options in this area so it’s worth paying attention. As a presiding feature, your character’s treason level displays at all times and is reflective of your actions. Thus, choosing the wrong response or action will potentially raise your treason level especially if you opt to ignore sucking-up to friend computer at all times. If your treason reaches a maximum threshold then essentially your clone becomes a wanted man/woman as everyone turns against you. Try again!
There is some clever and often tongue-in-cheek humour during the dialogue which is possibly one of the better features of the game. Expect a lot of time reading as you control your character and interact with your three companions when out in-the-field. Interestingly another layer to stay aware of is how you behave in front of your team. They come in various classes with the own set of skills, but if you behave in a way that’s at odds with them, then during the mission debriefing they’ll report you to Friend Computer. An option to report members of your team exists, but this isn’t always advised especially if you have a decent rapport with your team mates.
Paranoia isn’t all talking and running about the isometric hub areas. Most missions involve combat which interestingly offers real-time action and a pause mode to stack attacks and specials. Players choose their equipment and suitable staff before each mission and then put that into practice in the field. Whilst the combat sounds interesting on-paper, the reality is less favourable due to some odd-mechanics. Players control individual team members or as a group by placing them around the level or behind cover (especially useful for ambushes). However, it’s best to stand-ground and let the AI shoot at each other. The optional pause is a welcome feature as further into the game the enemies offer quite the challenge. The way cover works is a little hit-and-miss where often it’s not entirely clear when cover is effective or not.
What is the most jarring of the mission progression is if your character dies. You then have two options. Use one of your clones or restart the entire mission from the mission-briefing stage. The lack of mid-level checkpoints feels overly punishing. If you decide to risk a clone then you go all the way back to base and restart the intro sequence again, then have to travel all the way back to where you died. Not very user friendly at all. This makes some levels a chore to play and dampens the whole experience. Whilst missions offer some story arcs, the general gameplay does get repetitive quite quickly. Perhaps some more direct control over the characters could have helped here.
Paranoia is a bit of an odd one when it comes to its graphics options on PC. For starters the game offers just two resolutions, 720p and 1080p. In this day-and-age the lack of options is mind-blowing. Interestingly, players force an upscale mode if connected to a 4K monitor or TV by starting a game then quitting back to the menu and reloading. For some reason this works a treat and offers superior visuals compared to just leaving it with the default setting. The game has some neat areas to explore with excellent mood-lifting real time shadows. You can zoom in and out to get a close-up of the characters which is a nice touch. The game also offers gamepad support for those who want it and customizable keyboard controls. Audio feels quite standard but the lack of voice-overs in general (aside from the monotone of friend computer and some others we won’t spoil here) hurts the game overall.
Gamers can expect a reasonable length campaign here reaching into double figures. There is some limited replay value as players choose different skills which affects how things generally pan-out. However, there isn’t a difficulty level selection which leaves it to players to make their own especially if turning-off the pause function.
Paranoia Happiness Is Mandatory offers a fun-to-read game with some action based gameplay tossed-in. The fate of your clone character is interesting especially as you delve-deeper into the darker corners of Alpha Complex. The combat feels like the weakest part of the experience as it lacks the complexity required to fully engage the player. That said, if you can stomach some odd design choices then this game might appeal. With a bit of tinkering though it could be much-better, unfortunately it’s not and becomes a bit of an acquired taste for fans of the cult role-playing game.
Review code supplied by the publisher.