Title: Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory
Available on: PC
Developer: Cyanide, Black Shamrock
Publisher: Bigben Interactive, Black Shamrock
Official Site: Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory
Release Date: December 6, 2019
Where to Buy: Epic Games Store
It can be challenging to translate a TTRPG or a board game to a video game. There’s a lot that can happen in a game setting like Dungeons and Dragons. The world is a sandbox, and your characters can go practically anywhere as long as the dungeon master allows. The recent release of Baldur’s Gate shows that it is possible to translate aspects of D&D into a digital format. With a tabletop game like Paranoia, the playfield is often reduced as Friend Computer may not want you exploring too much of Alpha Complex.
Having an overbearing AI (Friend Computer that was a treasonous thing to say and I apologize) that watches your every move in a big brother sort of fashion is nothing new to fiction or sci-fi. But it is one of the most used tropes in pop culture. Not that it’s a bad thing, though. It’s one of the unique aspects included in Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory. In a world full of civilians and Troubleshooters that lack emotion and spirit, every interaction with Friend Computer felt refreshing and, in an odd way, uplifting.
In Paranoia, you play a Troubleshooter who is tasked with, well, a lot of different things. That’s the trouble with the game; there isn’t a set quest or main storyline. You blindingly follow Friend Computer’s will and direction to hunt down traitors that seek to destroy Alpha Complex, the futuristic and bureaucratic land where you live. All around the complex are banners depicting citizens who are in a perpetual state of happiness. To not be is considered treason, and anyone caught in a less than ecstatic mood will be terminated. Signs read, ‘There is no justice, just us.’ Or ‘Happiness is mandatory.’
Set in what may appear to be a utopian future, Paranoia contains all the aspects of a dystopia. It may not be an original idea, but it builds upon the works of 1984 or The Hunger Games by making the society seem pleasant. It reminds me of the episode of Avatar, ‘There is no war in Ba Sing Se. Here we are safe.’
One of the best and worst aspects of Paranoia is the constant reminder that the player lives in a world controlled by an egotistical AI (again, my apologies Friend Computer). Knowing your every move is monitored makes you want to go against the altruistic AI, but alas, you aren’t able to. Unlike the tabletop version, players are unable to choose their path and instead have to follow a prompt of sentences. Interactions with other characters can be enjoyable and humorous, but the majority of the time, it’s reading a massive wall of text.
Scrolling through sentence after sentence of blocked words got to be very overwhelming, so much so that I skipped ahead a few times. I knew what my overall goal was, and while I am all for reading and text-based games, it slowed down the game. Adding in voice acting would do this game justice and give it a bit more life. Friend Computer and another AI are the only characters with actual lines of dialogue, and I appreciate that.
The storyline of Paranoia is one fetch quest after another. While the plot behind each one is connected, it felt like the campaign was railroaded and didn’t allow much room to maneuver around any of the choices. The quests were full of sarcastic remarks and ridiculous interactions that, after a while, just felt stale. The environments you travel through, however, are stunning to behold. Colors pop when you scroll over them, and Alpha Complex is a vast array of twisting corridors and rotting sewers. I felt as if I were playing an open-world game until I realized my choices were limited, and that room I wanted to visit was behind a locked door. And unlocking those doors is a task of itself.
The majority of quests will have you speak with numerous officers and NPCs around Alpha Complex. They each will then have their side quest for you to do. You can attempt to complete it or try to flag them for some treasonous activity until they give in to your demands. While fun, it felt like a chore to go around to multiple people until they sent you in the right direction. It’s entertaining at first, but after a while it just got monotonous.
Joining the Troubleshooter are three others, each with their own unique talent or mutation. Everyone in the party has a unique trait that can aid you in combat. There is a hygiene officer, a combat officer, a happiness officer, a loyalty officer, and a tech guy. Each comes with a useful fighting style like a headshot to blast an enemy’s head or a leg shot that hinders movement. They also feature their gear that you can use if needed. Some carry extra pills that boost your battle skills while others come with bandages to heal your wounds. You should remember, though, that getting wounded in battle can be an act of treason as your skills were not good enough to get out of the way. Also, losing a teammate in a fight is an act of treason as well.
Paranoia’s combat is more or less clicking red highlighted enemies on the battlefield, hoping you beat them before they terminate you. The first time I played through a scenery where the Troubleshooters fight in an illegal robot fighting tournament, I got terminated almost immediately. On my next clone, our team won in a few seconds. The fighting is in real-time, so your decisions are all based on split-second choices. However, you can select to pause the game by hitting the spacebar. This gives you ample time to choose weapons, grenades, take pills, and line up unique shots.
While dying will be something you encounter quite often, it isn’t the end of Paranoia. Yes, it can be frustrating to see yourself terminated over and over again, that is the entire premise of the game. Each Troubleshooter is given six clones. Each time you die, you have the choice of respawning again in one of the clones or restarting the mission over. It’s a backward way of thinking as not many video games give you the option to start over without losing progress.
Opting for the clone allows you to give your Troubleshooter new stats, and each death raises the number of points you get to fill your tree. You can retool your character to be a better hacker, which is treasonous, improve their skills with guns, or some other options that will help you navigate Alpha Complex.
Paranoia isn’t a game about trying to complete quest after quest. It’s finding new ways to earn infractions to raise your treason level. One of the highlights is keeping an eye on how much traitorous things you have done. It’s a puzzle to figure out what exactly will earn you infractions. You could go the easy route and backtalk Friend Computer, or punch a computer screen in the middle of Alpha Complex, or terminate your fellow Troubleshooters for no reason. You could also go the entire game attempting not to get any treason level, but good luck with that. One of the best infractions I received was a complete accident. If you leave the game running for a few minutes without moving the character or mouse, Friend Computer will give an efficiency refraction of four percent.
Verdict: Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory is a unique and entertaining journey. It’s a blast to play, albeit a bit slow and confusing. It’s pleasing to look at and contains a few comedic moments intermixed with some more cringe-worthy jokes. For all its flaws and lackluster combat, it’s still worth picking up. It’s a breath of fresh air and stands out in the world of today’s shooters, looters, and battle royals.