We are living in a time now where the notion of an all powerful AI is a very real possibility. This is a potentially scary proposition right? Well take a dystopian world in which you’re a clone and said computer is your boss and erm … god actually, and you have the world of Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory. Is being a clone in world controlled by a large box of bolts fun? Well we’ll just have to find out.
In Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory you will be taking the roll of a troubleshooter. This is a somewhat technical term for “walking punchbag that will do as it’s told or die.” “Friend” computer will send you and your team to solve various problems about Alpha Complex. These start out with simply looking after a scrub-bot with a fear complex and get more dangerous as you proceed. There is a very strong theme running through this game. All of the, “problems” the computer finds are lethal. You’re a clone so getting killed gives you a do-over but it’s not a very pleasant experience. Of course not doing as your told is a very good way of getting yourself killed faster by the computer. It’s like playing through one giant catch 22.
You have to be very careful what you’re doing in Paranoia. Having been spat out of the cloning vat you’re assigned a red jump suit. The color you wear attests to your clearance level within Alpha Complex. This level isn’t just corresponding to what you are and aren’t allowed to know or the level of missions you’re going to be trusted with. If you do so much as walk in the wrong place you’re violating the rules and that isn’t good for your treason level, (I’ll come to this in a moment.) The rooms and corridors of the complex are broken into colored zones. As a red you can walk in the red zones, orange jump suits are cleared for red and orange and so on. You’ll need to be mindful not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I’ve just mentioned your treason level. This pertains to how much of a threat the computer deems you. You start out at 0% which is classed by friend computer as “questionable.” There isn’t any trust here, just levels of how untrustworthy you are. Should you’re level hit 100% you’ll be given about two minutes to go an voluntarily terminate yourself, after that every guard in the place will come and do the terminating for you. There are a lot of things that will raise your level, from minor infractions such as walking on the wrong bit of floor to making any of a bunch of really bad choices in the game and getting caught.
Each clone is given six chances at life. Put into game terms this means that you get six chances at completing the entire game. You can buy more but this is costly and not very legal. A new clone is a new person. You’ll have to go back to character creation and pick your stats all over again. The only thing that will be remembered is where you are in the game. You are also given a mutation. This can be anything from telekinesis to the ability to create shields with your mind. Just don’t come out with six toes unless you want to be going for scrap.
Each mission you’re sent on is two-fold. You have to go and sort out whatever mess the computer wants you to fix but not before a trip to R&D. Think of James Bond being sent off to see Q. The difference here is that all the weapons haven’t been tested and the gadgets are just as likely to kill Bond as they are to help him. Being a guinea pig is mandatory so you’ll find yourself doing something for the mad-scientists in that division every time. Upset them, you upset the computer … are we seeing a theme here?
When you complete a mission you have to appear before friend computer with your team for a debriefing. This a case of you reporting your findings and the computer deciding whether you have done a decent enough job to warrant continued breathing. If the almighty AI deems you have and none of your team rat you out for doing anything shady you might just get out alive. If of course computer isn’t happy with you … well … just keep it happy.
Your team in Paranoia have their own positions within your little squad. Some are happiness officers, (not being happy is dangerous,) others are technicians, still others are loyalty officers and so on. Depending on who you have will depend on some of the choices you’ll be able to make.
Your team members have the ability to think and their actions seem to be based on a roll of the dice. As an example you start with an engineer in your squad and as part of your first mission you have to hack a door. She’s clear to do this but you aren’t. On account of this you’re given the dilemna of whether to trust her. If you hack the door, (which you have to,) she might rat you out to the computer on de-brief. On my first run through the game she kept her mouth shut. On my second time round I wasn’t so lucky. The fact that your own team could potentially be against you is lovely little touch.
The feeling of being controlled extends to your inventory system. You have a secret stash in which you can hid things that you pick up on missions and you’ll have to be canny about how you use this. Your gear is given to you at the start of a mission and taken away at the end. You can’t give clones guns after all, they might use them. This applies to anything else you find. Anything you want to keep will need to be stashed. This isn’t a very big box though, so you’ll need to use the space wisely.
Coming down to my view on the game, Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory is not a title for people who don’t like to do a lot of reading. There’s a hell of a lot of dialogue in this game and none of it is spoken. This isn’t an issue for me personally. Everything was so well written and funny that I loved reading every bit of it. If you’re someone that just wants to get into the action and get as much of it as possible this is going to drive you up the wall. It’s a case of each to there own but it’s definitely something worth noting.
Gameplay-wise, if I’m looking for a comparison, the Dungeons and Dragons games would be a good one. Think about the mechanics of Baldor’s Gate and you’ll have a fair idea what’s going on here, live pause and all. Something I’m less of a fan of is the way you control individual characters. You have to remember to hit their portraits to get them to do anything. This seems like a no-brainer but it’s easy to forget that you can’t just click on a character model to interact with them.
In a firefight it’s easy to forget most of your gear and skills because everything is automatic. You’re concentrating on not getting killed. The live pause function helps this but things like abilities, grenades and weapons feel a bit more like arbitrary filler because you don’t take enough time to think. This is a shame but not enough of an issue to ruin the game.
All in all this ia a brilliant little RPG. It’s well written, funny and has a tried and tested idea. Paranoia came out when I was about 5 so this isn’t a new game rather something very well loved from the past. (I’m 38 by the way, work it out yourselves.) There is a feeling of nostalgia both from this point of view but also from the mechanics. The sound is fitting and aside from a few minor gripes it all plays very well. If you’re looking for a new world to delve into you probably couldn’t go far wrong with this one.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Worth cloning yourself for
There is a lot of nostalgia in the playstyle of Paranoia. It’s a tight, well executed RPG that is absolutely worth your time. It’s funny, well written and although infuriating at times not so difficult that you want to give up. This isn’t a game for those of you that don’t like a lot of text while you’re playing, this won’t be a problem for most RPG fans but it’s definitely something of note. All in all a very enjoyable experience. 5 stars, would get incinerated for doing something inoffensive again.