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Gameverse | June 24, 2017

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Early Access: Paranautical Activity

Frank Streva

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Considering the rant I wrote about the failings of Steam Greenlight a while back, it’s only natural that I cover Paranautical Activity. This modest little FPS Roguelite by Code Avarice had a difficult time getting onto Steam. A publishing deal with Adult Swim fell through because it was arbitrarily denied release by Valve, who seem to be making up the rules for Greenlight as they go along. But, finally, Paranautical Activity managed to get Greenlit and is now available on Steam’s Early Access program for $10. So, how is the game in its current beta form? Pretty solid, actually.

Being yet another entry in the sudden surge of “Roguelite” indie games over the past few months, Paranautical Activity merges the ideas of randomly generated levels, items, and permadeath found in Roguelikes with another genre, in this case that of the old-school FPS. Paranautical Activity plays like Quake or Painkiller, with fast movement and the ability to change direction mid-jump. Enemies also shoot large projectiles and telegraph their attacks, meaning that you always have a chance to dodge if you’re quick enough. Kiting, strafing, and jumping are the key to surviving the rather challenging combat in Paranautical Activity, unlike most modern shooters that consist of advancing slowly while crouched with your super-tacticool rank 57 red dot sight glued to your eyeball.

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A playthrough of Paranautical Activity works much like other recent Roguelites: You pick a class with different starting weapons and statistics and try to go through as many floors as possible. There are currently five starting classes, each of which are differentiated by weapon, number of bombs, health, and speed. The Gorton is very fast with little health and a throwing sickle that must be charged up to deal the maximum amount of damage, while on the other end of the spectrum is the Tank, with its shotgun, slow movement speed, and massive amounts of starting life. I do wish that the classes had maybe an extra ability or something to make them even more unique. As it stands, the weapon you have is the only really drastic difference between the classes.

In fact, more variety is really the only issue I have with the game in its current (admittedly still unfinished) state. Each level has a shop, a mini-boss room, and a boss room that blocks the elevator to the next floor. You’ll find items in shops, and after killing bosses, that modify your character in some way. The main bosses often give you pretty drastic upgrades, like the ability to double jump or increasing your max health. Problem is, these upgrades never really expand your combat options. You have one gun and your bombs. You might find upgrades that alter your bombs, or find new weapons to pick up, but you can only have one weapon at a time. I’ve seen this complaint from other people, so this is certainly an issue that Code Avarice should try to resolve. Maybe some sort of sub-weapon system, or maybe upgrades that can add more drastic alterations to your weapons like an alternate fire mode. As fun as the shooting in the game is, it just needs more options available at any given time.

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Room layouts could use some more variety too. It seems that Paranautical Activity has a number of premade rooms that are simply connected in different, semi-random ways to create a level. The number of these room layouts seems pretty small right now, as I’m constantly encountering the same rooms with the same configuration of enemies. Then again, that could be because I suck and keep dying on around the third floor. You do find more interesting layouts the deeper you go, such as rooms with lava and other traps. Enemy variety is pretty good so far. You’ll generally encounter a new type of basic enemy each level, and the bosses in particular are all pretty solid. They are challenging and generally don’t drag on for too long, a combination that some games often fail to get right.

All of these problems can be summed up as “this game is still in beta, more content coming soon.” These are all issues that Code Avarice has said that they are actively looking into. The game still has no official full release date, and a recent successful Kickstarter, combined with the early access sales on both Steam and their official website, ensures that they have a bit of cash to throw around, too. Hopefully my demands for “MORE CONTENT!” will be satisfied when the game transitions out of beta.

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Putting aside the need for more content (which, again, can be attributed to its unfinished, beta state), Paranautical Activity already has a really solid foundation. The core mechanics are all there, with fun yet challenging action and that “one more run!” compulsion that any good Roguelike/Roguelite needs to be successful. I put about four hours into the Early Access build before writing this, and I’m enjoying myself enough to keep playing despite the game’s need for a bit more variety. If Paranautical Activity appeals to you and you are fine with buying a game that isn’t quite finished yet, you can check it out on Steam Early Access.