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It’s tricky to talk about a game, or anything that had a rocky development cycle. Think about how many games that came out and were ruined due to the developer or publisher screwing things up. I feel like games like Evolve, Duke Nukem Forever, Aliens: Colonial Marines, and Ride to Hell probably could have been better if they didn’t go through such problematic development cycles. Sometimes, the publisher decides to destroy the hype for the game before launch, due to bad business practices, or maybe the game was doomed from the beginning because of actions by the developer. There will be no shortage of incidences where a game comes out worse-for-wear because of a developer or publisher. This was partly the fate of today’s review of Paranautical Activity. If you were paying attention to anything in 2014 that was centered on gaming, then you have probably heard of this game, due to a notorious meltdown the original developer had with Steam. Essentially, Steam accidentally labeled Paranautical Activity as an Early Access game instead of a full-fledged release. Not to say Steam doesn’t have their huge problems that are making them look worse by each passing year, but if you are planning to publish and release your game on any console or service, then you probably shouldn’t go on a mental meltdown twitter rant. That is what happened here. Paranautical Activity was released back in October 2014 by the original developer, but was accidentally put under the wrong category, and the developer, Code Avarice, flipped. One of the devs of the team just blew up and basically does what everyone who wants to keep their job should not do. The game was then pulled from Steam, the individual that got mad left the team, but came back onto the team later. Then, the rights to the game and everything basically attached to it were then sold off to a new developer called Digerati Digital. The game was then brought back onto Steam, and is now on consoles for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Vita, and Wii U as of April 14th 2016. So, after all this drama and fiascos, is Paranautical Activity good? Well, let’s find out.
Since there really isn’t a plot besides you being in this oceanized version of Hell, we can get on with the gameplay. Paranautical Activity is essentially a first-person roguelike shooter that attempts to capture that fast-paced spirit of Doom and Quake. So, what does this game offer in terms of fast-paced first-person action? Well, you can choose from different classes with two weapons each, and have different stats and ways of playing through this frantic game. After choosing said class, you go through randomized levels, entering rooms that are filled with monsters and creepy individuals where your goal is to pretty much stop them from moving. In each of the eight levels, you will also find rooms with interchangeable weapons, shops to buy new items and power-ups, and special challenge rooms. If I were you, if you chose a layout that gives you less health, don’t bother. The main goal of each level is to find the bosses and turn them into chunky fish paste. After surviving that floor and what it offers, you get to go to the next level with whatever weapons and power-ups you obtained. Now, even with all these ability-induced power-ups and weapons you obtained, if you die once, it’s all the way back to the beginning. If you do complete enough challenges, you will gain new perks, and unlock new modes like Hardcore and Endless.
Graphically, it is inspired by that Minecraft/3D 8-bit style that is started to flood the indie scene, due to hits like Minecraft. It looks fine, and I totally get where they are coming from, but I wouldn’t say it’s very original. The music is also fun, since it’s over-the-top heavy metal butt rock that you have heard in games like, well, Doom and Quake.
Unfortunately, this game does have its flaws. First off, the game is not very special in terms of the genre. Besides the nautical theme, it’s very bland looking, and I think it’s because of the 8-bit style that it has. Since I have seen this “3D retro” look before, it doesn’t really do much for me in terms of remembering the motif of the game. It’s also way too dark. On top of the graphical style, it’s difficult to see what’s around you. Not that I was bumping into everything every single second, but couldn’t they have done something else to illuminate the rooms? I’d love to see the enemies, but it’s so dark, I couldn’t really get a good look at them. I also found the game to be kind of laggy. Something feels not optimized, and maybe it’s the Wii U port that I have, but it’s as if I can’t go fast enough to dodge enemies, or the framerate was not up to something like Ziggurat, which was smooth and fast. I also found the gun and weapon sound effects to be lacking. It never felt satisfying to kill anything. That satisfaction only came up because of getting through the dark rooms and actually beating the bosses with very little health left. I also found the classes to not be balanced well. I tried using them all, but the only one that felt worthwhile was the one with the blow fish launcher and the hand scythe thing. The game is difficult, and where as I felt good going back into games like Ziggurat and Tower of Guns more and more, I don’t have the urge to go back into Paranautical Activity. It just seems like I make no progress, since I keep having to restart at square one when I die. At least with the other two FPS roguelikes I have mentioned, I can either go through with new satisfying weapons, great art styles, and in terms of Ziggurat, I could go back into the level I died on.
Even looking past the drama and history of this game, Paranautical Activity is just solid enough to be a decent game. It’s nothing terrible, but very middle-of-the-road in terms of first-person roguelikes. It has solid gameplay and randomized elements, but this game has to deal with other games in the scene, like Tower of Guns, Heavy Bullets, and Ziggurat, which are better than this game. At least, that is what I personally think. It’s not a terrible game, and if you are into these types of hardcore FPS games, then you will find plenty to enjoy, but for me, you have to start competing and not just be “good enough”. Paranautical Activity is on Steam, the PlayStation 4, Vita, Xbox One, and now the Wii U, so you don’t have to look hard to find this game for your console of choice. I can’t blame my criticisms of this game on the new developers, since they had to deal with what they were given. I think if they can somehow iron out the problems like slowdown, the way-too-dark rooms, the repetitive levels, and lack of variety, then I think the game would be much better off. Like I said, this isn’t the worst, but in a competitive scene like the indie gaming scene, you have to do more to stand out.
This game gets a 5 out of 10.