I knew that I had seen Paranautical Activity somewhere before, although, as it turns out, that was thanks in part to somewhat controversial circumstances.
After the completed game was still categorised in Steam’s Early Access program, Code Avarice developer Mike Maulbeck angrily took to social media to air his grievances. Making a misjudged decision to post a death threat directed at Valve co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell, his frustration resulted in Valve pulling the game from sale entirely.
With Valve refusing to alter their stance, Code Avarice sold the intellectual property and game code to Digerati – a route that has since allowed it to return to Steam and other consoles with it. And so, for better or worse, here we are.
Now under Digerati’s banner, Paranautical Activity is a game that tries to intertwine itself with recent industry trends. Part of that inspiration comes from Bethesda’s lauded DOOM revival, while the other lies in the growing popularity that surrounds procedurally-generated roguelikes such as The Binding of Isaac and Spelunky. Throw in blocky graphics reminiscent of Minecraft, and it soon becomes clear that there are far too many ingredients in this melding pot.
The resulting concoction packs plenty of punch, even if that is largely thanks to a soundtrack entirely comprised of raucous dubstep. That bass-heavy selection may soon have you raving at a nearby nightclub, but feels entirely at odds with the experience that Paranautical Activity aims to deliver.
But while the ambition behind the concept is sound, the execution is somewhat inconsistent. There are three modes to tackle – Classic, Hardcore, and Infinite – although only Classic is initially available to you. Decision made, players can then choose between four different weapon loadouts – David Bowie, Dy-no-mite!, Gorton, and The Tank – presenting grenade launchers, sickles, crossbows, and cannons as the necessary tools to fend for your survival. These loadouts have speed, damage, fire rate, and health parameters attributed to each of them, which allows for some gameplay variance even if it is more likely that players will stick to their favourites.
Once you are eventually thrown into the arena, Paranautical Activity soon runs into more prominent issues. As the player moves between rooms the procedural generation sees the game repeatedly stutter whenever you wander through a new doorway, which is an issue for a game that promises “impossibly fast gameplay.”
With a bestiary of just 40 monsters, even after you clearing the first few rooms repetition soon starts to creep in. That disappointment is compounded by the fact that the “ridiculous bosses” that the developer boasts of are frustratingly imbalanced, with the player required to continually strafe in wide circles to avoid damage. Even then, those evasive manoeuvres aren’t a guarantee for success, with bosses regularly cutting your limitive health down despite your best efforts.
These elements pander to a more prevalent issue in that Paranautical Activity simply isn’t as fun as the developer deems it to be. The game’s maniacal world is bland and unintriguing to explore, the gunplay simplistic, and the rate of reward unsatisfying.
That results in a middling experience, unable to be saved by the additional Hardcore and Infinite modes which add little more choice, as well as the plethora of unlocks that try to differentiate the time that you spend with the game with new bosses, weapons and items. But even they can’t stir interest.
As another Kickstarter-backed project, Paranautical Activity sours as a gameplay experience that once again falls short in comparison to what was promised. After the spectacle that had surrounded it, it’s understandable that Code Avarice would want to move on. But what they have left behind lingers as another game to avoid on the Nintendo eShop for Wii U.