Paranautical Activity Review – PlayStation 4

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Paranautical Activity is perhaps most famous for being the game that Gabe Newell, co-founder of Valve, received death threats about. Then under development by Code Avarice, Paranautical Activity has since moved to Digerati, and it is under this banner that the game has released on home consoles. Paranautical Activity is a first-person shooter blended with a roguelike, with visuals reminiscent of Minecraft. It’s also incredibly difficult, so if you’re after an easy experience, I’ll save you the time of reading this review and suggest that you look elsewhere.

There isn’t much of a narrative concept behind Paranautical Activity, save that you arrive at each floor in an elevator, and that your goal on each level is to fight your way through various marine-themed enemies to a room containing a boss, defeat said boss and enter another elevator to take you to the next floor. It sounds pretty straightforward, and objectively it is, but of the eight floors available, I’ve yet to see more than the first three, and the third I spent perhaps a total of twenty seconds in before being blown away. Paranautical Activity is tough, and requires all of your FPS-related expertise to succeed.

Upon starting each run at the game, you’re required to select a character, each of which comes with their own particular loadout of weapons, and setup of stats, including health, speed and fire rate. Weapons range from grenade launchers and swords to crossbows and broadside cannons, and each has their own particular strength or weakness, often complimented by the stats of the particular character that wields each weapon. Though most of the weapons can take down enemies fairly easily, I found that there wasn’t ever much satisfaction behind using them, as most of them pack any form of feedback punch, and considering how easy it is for enemies to defeat you, there was no typical FPS power trip behind gunning down monsters. Paranautical Activity’s gunplay feels more like pointing and clicking on enemies than most FPSs, and I found that pretty disappointing.

Visually, Paranautical Activity takes a leaf from the Minecraft book of presentation, with heavily pixelated environments and enemies. While this can sometimes be a charming experience, Paranautical Activity mixes this with a generally dark aesthetic, which often makes it difficult to see who or what you’re fighting, especially as the enemies that you face are often black models with only glowing eyes indicating their position. This pushes an already difficult experience into the realms of frustration, especially when an unseen enemy ends a reasonably successful run.

One thing that I usually enjoy about roguelikes is that, despite the difficulty and seemingly endless deaths, there’s often a sense of progression that encourages you to try again and again. In games such as Spelunky, this is marked by being able to access later levels from the home screen, rather than having to venture through early levels again and again, and in other games it can be achieved by granting a useful item or ability that makes progression through earlier levels easier.

There isn’t really any of this on show in Paranautical Activity, aside from an achievement screen which includes tokens for performing tasks such as completing a level without jumping or defeating a particular boss. This creates a feeling of a lack of achievement each time a run comes to an end, and unless you’re a particular brand of masochist, it doesn’t inspire much encouragement to play through the game again and again, as you end up with nothing to show for it.

Paranautical Activity is without doubt one of the more difficult and inaccessible games that I’ve played recently, almost to the point of obnoxiousness. There’s certainly a culture in video gaming that revolves around games which are seemingly impossible to finish, and ‘mainstream’ games such as Dark Souls and Bloodborne barely scratch the surface of this particular brand of games. I am more than willing to admit that I’m far from a skilled gamer, and play more for fun than bragging rights, and therefore games such as Paranautical Activity aren’t really aimed at my particular demographic.

If you are into virtual reality self-harm, then Paranautical Activity isn’t a bad option, though it does have issues, and doesn’t especially perform its role as an FPS particularly well. If, like me, you tend to play games more for relaxation than attempting to prove how good you are, then you might be better off looking elsewhere.

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