Paranautical Activity is a first person shooter with rogue-like elements that has been developed by the independent studio, Code Avarice. With the rise of rogue-like games over the past few years, seeing Paranautical Activity arriving on console simply adds another title to the fine selection on offer.
Rogue-like has become a bit of a genre of its own these days, and with many reputable and successful titles on the market, it isn’t surprising that developers are bringing new ones to the store more frequently. With an art style very similar to the original Doom, and gameplay that is reminiscent of games such as Tower of Guns and Ziggurat, it is quite clear Code Avarice has got the inspiration from previous successful games. But replication doesn’t always mean success – what differences does Paranautical Activity bring to the table?
The aim of the game is quite clear, the player must clear each floor of randomised supernatural enemies – and finally the boss – with one of four weapon classes, before progressing to the next of eight floors via an elevator; with each floor becoming increasingly more difficult than the last. However, this isn’t something fresh within the genre and it must be said that after just a few hours with Paranautical Activity, I couldn’t help but feel the game actually seems to lack the quality of similar titles already available. The only change really on offer is in the selection of enemies; even then the game still feels heavily underwhelming with the supernatural enemies turning out to be floating skulls and flying whales at best. With a lack of any story, it really feels as if more time should have been placed into the development of the game to ensure that there was something new for fans of the genre to experience. Early signs really fail to give off the impression of a good game and you’ll be hit with more of a ‘rushed to market’ feel.
Despite the lack of anything original on show, the gameplay isn’t terrible. There is fast paced FPS action throughout and the randomly generated rooms full of different enemies ensure that no two playthroughs are ever the same. Throughout the game there are power-ups that can be obtained to help the player and these keep the game balanced on later floors with double-jump additions and more health proving invaluable against some of the floors’ bosses. During each level there is also a shop that can be visited to buy further power-ups in order to aid your way through the game safely.
When facing off against the different enemy types though it’s not long before it all feels more like the same old gameplay. Whether you progress or not seemingly all boils down to luck rather than skill. With weapons dealing different amounts of damage each time you play, making it almost impossible to know which weapons to choose, and enemies that can either kill you in one or two shots or just fail to fire a single bullet, really just brings forward those previous thoughts of a rushed development cycle. Of course it is completely plausible to say that this is where the strategy of the game comes in but with procedural generation in place every time you play the game, weapons becoming inconsistent really takes away the balance of the game. Something which in turn takes away a lot of the fun that could have been had with this title.
Another place the game lacks heavily is with the visuals. Whilst for many, myself included, visuals aren’t the game changing factors when deciding if a new title is good or bad, often they can help. That is especially true when there are already several other games available with similar gameplay and with my previous reference pointing at a Doom-esque art style you would be forgiven for thinking that could be a redeeming factor. Sadly that’s not the case. With gameplay already lacking the quality needed for a memorable experience, you would expect other elements to be of a high standard. On this occasion though the art style seems to just blend everything together too much and makes each room look the same. I was often finding myself getting killed simply because I hadn’t noticed the little hooded enemy standing behind me in the corner – despite checking behind me several times.
One thing that doesn’t disappoint me, at least initially, is the music on offer. It seems to fit the game’s darker art-style well, with a grittier type of Dubstep style audio accompaniment in place for the vast majority of the game. Proving slightly soothing at first, with continuous loops of the same thing, this soon becomes quite tiring to the point whereby I even found myself unable to play the game for too long at a time due to the constant overbearing beat on my ears.
For those who would like something else to do there is extra content on offer, and for anyone able to look past the tiring art style and unbalanced gameplay there are the addition of extra game modes. Accessing these extras however proved slightly confusing. In fact, I found that I needed to exit the game altogether and open it back up just to get back to the main menu due to the lack of a quit option in the pause menu. I finally got back though and was greeted with the option of Hardcore and Infinite modes, each one locked initially until the player passes certain criteria in the game. Unlocking the Hardcore option is quite simple, the player must navigate through each of the eight floors in normal mode and upon completing this the Hardcore mode is unlocked. Although it must be said that this game mode is simply for the die-hard completionists out there. With every enemy becoming a lot more powerful and harder to kill, and weapons still proving terribly inconsistent, this brings about more rage inducing due to the flaws becoming noticeable much quicker.
I have however found Infinite mode inaccessible. The requirements to play through requires the player to complete every achievement included within the game, with this including the requirement of beating the previously mentioned Hardcore mode a silly number of times, with all weapon classes. I was quickly aware this was not something I would be achieving any time soon, and with the quality of the game already a bit of a disappointment, I think this will be a mode that many players will just not see as worth the effort.
So, is Paranautical Activity worth a try? With other games in the same space already available and providing a much better experience, it is hard to say that this is even worth trying. Had I not known about Tower of Guns, Ziggurat or The Binding of Isaac then maybe Paranautical Activity would have stood out a lot more but with each negative experience within the game, it isn’t hard to see that there is a lot more needed to put this title in line with the other Rogue-like FPS games out there.
With that in mind Paranautical Activity is a title simply released at a bad time without the gameplay quality deserving of an Xbox One title to back it up.