Review – Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory
Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory is an isometric CRPG, based off of the cult classic pen and paper RPG of the same name. There have been successful tabletop to video game adaptations in the past like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate, but not every game translates well to a different medium than was originally intended. Unfortunately, Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory falls into the latter category.
Set in a dystopian future, you play as Trouleshooter, a lowly clone that is tasked with fixing various troubles around your homestead, the Alpha Complex. Not that there are any serious issues around the Alpha Complex. In fact, the almighty Friend Computer will constantly assure you that everything is perfect. Nothing is to be questioned. You are to complete your jobs without objection and without breaking any rules. Disobedience of any kind will not be tolerated.
The rules set upon the Alpha Complex are extensive and seem to increase all the time. Proper hygiene is a must. Never question a superior ranking officer or the Friend Computer. Never journey into a sector that you don’t have color-coded clearance for. Be sure to ingest your daily allotment of Bouncy Bubble Beverage. Be sure to take your happy pills. After all, happiness is mandatory.
Failure to comply with the rules of the Alpha Complex will mark you as a traitor. Breaking one rule won’t necessarily make you instantly deemed a traitor, but exercising free will too often will. Free will is overrated. Trust in the Friend Computer. Being labeled a traitor is grounds for termination. If you are executed, you will be respawned and be given different attributes than you had before. Not that anyone will miss you since you’re simply a worthless clone.
The premise of the game is fantastic and I have to hand it to the writers for coming up with some truly hilarious dialogue. The humor throughout is definitely the best part about Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory. Some of the situations you’ll find yourself in while investigating troubles for the Friend Computer are downright wacky. The element of trying to solve problems while still toeing the line adds a unique twist to the gameplay and adds more of a puzzle-solving element to it. Or you could try to rebel where you can and hope for the best. That’s even more fun.
You set about your tasks with a team of four, including yourself. Everyone on your team is under the same orders to follow instructions and report any traitorous activity. This is where the paranoia part comes into play. Often when on an assignment, you’ll find that the only way to progress is to do something not allowed and that’s when you’ll have to make careful decisions. Do you perform an action that’s against protocol or order one of your teammates to do it? Do you risk being reported by one of them or tell the Friend Computer that you can’t complete your mission and probably get terminated? Do you command a squadmate to do something illegal and then report their traitorous actions later? I did that last one. A lot. It makes me happy and happiness is mandatory.
As fun of a premise as Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory has, sadly it’s the gameplay that brings it down. Each clone you control will have some sort of a special mutation that gives you an extra power, like telekinesis or pyrokinesis. This, in addition to some carefully selected attributes at the start of each new clone cycle, do add some variety to the game. Unfortunately, the attributes you choose usually only offer up new dialogue options for the most part. However, they can make certain missions easier to complete depending on your skillset. Regardless, there’s usually someone else on your team with the talents required to get what you need, so this makes your own chosen attributes seem less impactful.
The actual combat is somehow at the same time frustrating and boring. You select which enemy you want to attack, click on them, and watch your team shoot away. Occasionally you can use your special mutation ability to attack or add buffs to your squad. The animations for the varying special attacks don’t look that different from normal attacks, so the combat feels stale very quickly.
The cover system is horrible and is the cause of most of the frustration with the gameplay. Often times, even when you or your team are behind cover, enemies will still blast you even though it looks like they shouldn’t be able to reach you. Then when you’re behind an object and trying to attack, you’ll find that you’re not dealing any damage because your shots are hitting your cover instead. There were a few fights where I died often simply because I was trying to figure out where safety actually was.
This brings me to my other big issue with the game: the checkpoint system. As I’ve already mentioned, whenever your clone dies, either in combat or through termination, you’ll have the option to retry the mission from the last checkpoint or start with a new clone. Playing around with new clones is fun until you realize that you can only respawn six times before you’re stuck with whatever that last clone has for abilities and attributes. From then on, if you fail your mission, you’ll have to start the entire mission over from the beginning instead of the most recent checkpoint. Since this game features a lot of running back and forth all over Alpha Complex, this becomes insanely tedious.
The graphics are nothing mindblowing, but many of the animations, especially the various robots, are delightful and charming. I found myself actually becoming attached to a malfunctioning, soda addicted floor scrubber. Like I said, the humor and quirkiness are wonderful. The sound design is largely unremarkable, with the only voice being that of the Friend Computer, although that is well done. The sound effects are decent, but I couldn’t even tell you what the musical score was like. It’s that unmemorable.
Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory is a game that has a great idea behind it, but fails in its execution. I feel like this was a huge missed opportunity for something great. The premise and the writing are hysterical, but the gameplay is lackluster and aggravating at times. Maybe tabletop is where this game needs to remain. Playing this has made me want to try out the original version with some friends instead. I think that will make me happiest and happiness is mandatory after all.
Nothing too fancy graphics-wise, but the animations are hilariously cartoony.
The combat is boring, the cover system is frustrating, and there’s ridiculous amounts of backtracking. Figuring out how to complete missions proprly and/or screw over your teammates is really fun though.
The soundtrack is instantly forgettable, but the sound effects are decent enough. The voice acting for the Friend Computer is great, although it’s the only voice there is.
The premise is great and you’ll have fun with it at first, until you get bored with the combat and the nonstop trekking all over the Alpha Complex.
Final Verdict: 6.0
Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory was provided by the publisher.