Paranoia: Happiness Is Mandatory preview – retro RPG fun

Dark humour and Red Dwarf-ish charm make this retro-feeling RPG one to watch...

Last month, Den Of Geek flew over to Dublin to try out Paranoia: Happiness Is Mandatory, an upcoming RPG for PC, Xbox One and PS4 that takes its inspiration from a tabletop game from 1984 called Paranoia. The project has been developed in the Irish capital from the snazzy offices of Cyanide and Black Shamrock, with Bigben Interactive due to publish the title in October.

Sitting around a boardroom table with various executives and developers, some of whom even worked on the classic tabletop game, it’s obvious that there is no shortage of passion here. People talk with genuine enthusiasm about the original title’s dark sense of humour, and its propensity to encourage betrayals between players, and how they’ve tried to translate that quirky experience into a single-player game for the modern age. (One way they’ve done this is by making numerous party-members betray you over the course of the game.)

25 years on from the original Paranoia, its core plot points remain: in a closed-off dystopian community known as Alpha Society, the player undertakes missions as a ‘troubleshooter’ for an unhinged AI overlord called Friend Computer. The game’s subtitle, ‘happiness is mandatory’, is one of the Friend Computer’s many grim rules. Your job, basically, is to lead a team of characters through various missions to quell insubordination within this twisted society.

Thrown in somewhere between the shallow end and the deep end, Den Of Geek loads up the fourth level of the game. After choosing a squad of supporting characters and picking up a sizeable rocket launcher from Alpha Complex’s trigger-happy R&D department, it’s time to get started with the action. And once the level properly begins, we’re reminded of a classic line from a Mitchell & Webb sketch: “are we the baddies?”

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It certainly feels like we are, as our squad of geared-up troubleshooters is despatched to take out treasonous people that actually seem pretty reasonable. While much of Alpha Complex’s citizens remain merrily drugged up and oblivious to their dystopian living situation, the rebels we’re battling have realised that Friend Computer is a violent dictator and that life could be better without it.

The gameplay is fun, once you get the hang of it, as you guide your squad through various areas and wipe out all the naysayers that get in their way. You can hack terminals, craft equipment and dish out damage in a variety of ways, from the aforementioned rocket launcher’s powerful blasts to wacky mutant abilities like incineration attacks. This particular level builds to a confrontation between our squad an a sentient vending machine, the Vendanator, which is trying to lead a revolution against Friend Computer. Each area is filled with hazards, and most places that provide cover are capable of being destroyed. You’ve got to be tactical to win the day, and you might find that you lose teammates along the way.

Jumping in at level four, the game felt quite difficult, but that could just be because we skipped the tutorial stage and weren’t really sure which attacks and items were the best ones to use. We had time to try level one a little later, and after that everything made a lot more sense. Well… the world still felt utterly barmy, but our objectives and our skills became easier to understand.

What really stands out is the game’s sense of humour, with gags (of various levels of darkness) packed into every possible sentence. This combines nicely with the sci-fi setting and the lo-fi feel of the game’s retro graphics, with everything blending together into a tongue-in-cheek world that feels like a sibling to the likes of Red Dwarf. Maybe if the Starbug crew ended up in an Orwellian nightmare, it would feel a little like this.

It’s hard to get a true sense of a game from one and a bit levels, but it was obvious from our time in Alpha Complex that this is an intriguing world that we’d like to explore more. This new game may not have the sheen of bigger-budget RPG projects, but, in a way, that just adds to its charm. The writing is strong and the gameplay is fun, and that mandatory feeling of happiness may well be easy to achieve when you play the full game.

Paranoia: Happiness Is Mandatory will launch on PC on 3 October, with the console release date not yet confirmed.

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