Fun fact – Paranautical Activity has some history behind it. You see, this is the game that was pulled from Steam back in 2014 after its original lead developer lost his temper and threatened Valve boss Gabe Newell on social media. Now, I’m not going to go into details about that or try to blame anyone, since that whole debacle happened a while ago and has long since been resolved. No need to dredge up old ghosts and all that. However, I must confess, I was somewhat fascinated to play the game at the centre of that particular mess and see what all the fuss was about. Which is why I am a little disappointed that it is so distinctly average.
The thing to understand going into Paranautical Activity is that it is unashamedly a roguelike at heart. If you have played games from that genre before, particularly more modern examples like Rogue Legacy, Enter the Gungeon and Binding of Isaac, then you should more or less know what to expect here. For those that somehow haven’t, it means that players must fight their way through the various floors of a randomly generated dungeon, clearing rooms of random enemies, grabbing gear and loot and eventually defeating a boss to move onto the next floor. The levels start off being relatively easy but the difficulty quickly ramps up as players delve further in. These features are all front and centre here, though there is little added to really distinguish them from other examples of the genre.
The main conceit with this one is that it uses the mechanics of a classic first person shooter. Again, this isn’t exactly a new idea – there are quite a few other Roguelikes, like Tower of Guns and Heavy Bullets, which do the exact same thing. To its credit, Paranautical Activity is somewhat competent in its gunplay, largely thanks to the fact that it takes several cues from classic shooters such as Doom and Quake. Most of the various weapons handle relatively well, and running and jumping around generally feels pretty smooth.
Having said that, it is far from perfect. Some of the guns can be very particular about whether or not they hit their mark, such as the Laser shotgun which has a spread fire so ridiculous that it’ll miss anything right in front of you that isn’t the size of a whale. Furthermore, character movement can be a tad sluggish at times and I recommend turning the aim sensitivity up as for some reason the default is very low. However, in the grand scheme of things, these are only minor issues that irk an otherwise solid set of mechanics.
Of course, what matters is how it all comes together. Unfortunately, that’s where the crux of the problem is – while all the pieces that make up Paranautical Activity work fine, it is all stuff we’ve seen before and there is nothing new or interesting to make it stand out. That doesn’t mean it is bad, by any stretch, but it does mean that it isn’t great or notable either.
In fact, probably the only notable thing about the game is how it looks. Paranautical Activity uses a blocky, pixel-like aesthetic for all its 3D models, including the guns, items, enemies and even bullets. This is also the only place where the game’s ‘paranautical’ theme actually shows through, as enemies typically take the form of demonic sea creatures and ghosts. It is certainly distinctive, but more often than not the enemy designs look a tad generic. Sadly, the environments are far less varied. All the rooms seem to take place in the same dark blue bunker, with only the differences between levels being in lighting and room layout.
In terms of content, the game offers a fair chunk to keep players interested. The main classic mode, as with other roguelikes, can take a little time to truly conquer and will always feel somewhat different when replayed due to its random nature. In addition to this, there is also hardcore and infinite modes that can be unlocked to provide more of a challenge. There are also various challenges that players can undertake which grant new items and weapons when completed. All in all, there is enough here to keep someone occupied for a little while.
Regarding the Wii U version, which I played for the purposes of this review, the only major concession is that the Gamepad displays the game map as you are playing. I will admit, it isn’t much, but given this was originally a Steam game, I’m not entirely surprised – it wasn’t designed with the Wii U in mind, after all. There are also some fairly long load times, which from what I’ve gathered is a universal issue across all versions, but aside from that there were no overt technical issues that I could see.
To summarise, it is fair to say that Paranautical Activity is a decent game, both as an FPS and as a roguelike. Unfortunately, that just isn’t enough – there are already a great many other games out there just like it and it doesn’t really anything notable enough to stand out on its own. There is entertainment to be had here and those looking to get an FPS/ Roguelike fix or a new challenge may find something of worth. However, anyone looking for something more may be best served looking elsewhere.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Wii U code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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