Failure To Be Fun Is Treason

HIGH Absolutely nails the atmosphere of fear and ignorance from the tabletop game.

LOW Frustrating combat scenarios. Progression is inconsistent.

WTF When did it stop being treasonous to ignore the orders of a higher clearance citizen?


As a Paranoia player and GM since the early ’90s, I’ve always been a fan of the boardgame’s darkly humorous setting and its dual hooks of trying to survive while simultaneously outfoxing fellow players and a malevolent GM. By capitalizing on the motto of “be boring, and you’re dead”  Paranoia is a social game where comedy and good-natured inter-party backstabbing are paramount.  Black Shamrock and Cyanide Studio try to replicate this in the single-player focused Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory, but deliver mostly negative results.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, players find themselves stepping out of a cloning vat in the “utopia” known as Alpha Complex.  Friend Computer, the ruler of the complex, demands total loyalty and mandates that all citizens are happy at all times.  Failure to comply is treason, punishable by summary execution. 

The player is a member of the troubleshooters — teams sent by the Computer to root out trouble, and shoot it.  While on missions from the Computer, the player must guard against committing acts of treason (like straying into the wrong security clearance zone) while also trying to implicate teammates for similar transgressions. 

Mechanically, Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory is an isometric action/turn-based RPG hybrid.  When not in combat, troubleshooters may engage in conversations with citizens.  Based on ability scores, they may be able to influence conversations via special options.  This allows the player to get extra information from NPCs or to gain passage into otherwise-inaccessible locations.

When combat is inevitable, Paranoia allows players to pause and give orders to troubleshooters in groups or individually.  Their special abilities and mutant powers have cooldowns, and weapons can be swapped on the fly to suit the situation. It’s all fairly basic, and the combat is far less exciting than the tabletop version, as there are no opportunities for player creativity. 

Making matters worse, because troubleshooters are untrained and their weapons suck, battles are prolonged. This is funny in the tabletop version as it leads to opportunities for slapstick action and creative, out-of-the-box antics (I’ll swing from this electrical cable to draw their fire, citizens!)

Unfortunately, those moments of player-inspired mayhem aren’t possible, so combat becomes a drag as lack of efficacy in combat means troubleshooters die frequently.  In the pen and paper version, clone replacements show up immediately (at the GM’s discretion) to maintain player engagement.  In the videogame version, losing teammates makes combat harder and character death results in repeating the mission.

Another thing causing problems with combat is that Paranoia doesn’t explain that players lose equipment after each mission.  There’s a ‘secret stash’ where they can keep ill-gotten gains like that handy rocket launcher or a high-level laser, but space is extremely limited and players never know what items may be useful in the future.  Playing on the fear of being unprepared is useful in the tabletop version, but it only means that players don’t feel like they’re gaining experience or power here.

Progression apart from losing equipment is similarly odd.  Characters can temporarily improve stats by taking drugs, but I’m not clear if these bonuses stack and skill checks in the early game don’t seem passable, even with the drugs. Oddly, a character death allows players to respec and even gain a few extra skill points, but it’s not consistent — getting killed may allow a character to improve, except when it doesn’t!  It’s terribly frustrating.

Paranoia’s pathfinding is just problematic as the rest.  Characters can become stuck on walls or staircases easily, and after becoming unstuck, the characters sometimes stop being animated and glide eerily across the floor. 

When clicking on a destination, it’s easy for characters to accidentally run through zones they aren’t cleared to enter, and each such “offense” adds treason points to the player’s total.  Collect enough, and it’s time for a new clone.  It’s fine to be penalized for making an incorrect dialogue choice or willfully engaging in treasonous activity, but these unavoidable situations are irritating and forced me to micromanage my troops more than I should. 

All of these issues in design and execution are really a shame, since they mean that Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory is not enjoyable for any amount of time.  The dialogue is clever and witty, and I enjoyed seeing Alpha Complex come to life in videogame form, but aesthetics can only carry something so far. While I can’t recommend this iteration. there’s always the pen-and-paper version for those who need a fix.

Rating: 3.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Black Shamrock and Cyanide Studio and published by Bigben Interactive.   

This game is currently unavailable.  It was listed on the Epic Games Store for PC as an exclusive, but has been delisted as of January 17, 2020.  It still has a Steam page where it lists a 2020 release date.

This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC.  Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed.  There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Mild Language, Use of Drugs, and Violence. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is an action role-playing game in which players assume the role of a troubleshooter, a protector of a dystopian society controlled by an authoritarian A.I. From a 3/4-overhead perspective, players lead a team of three officers as they traverse futuristic complexes and complete mission objectives. During some missions, the team will engage in real-time combat with enemy forces (e.g., traitors, rogue robots, fish mutants). Players use laser blasters, rocket launchers, and explosives to defeat enemies in frenetic combat. Battles are accompanied by large explosions and screen-shaking effects. Characters emit splashes of blood when shot and killed; some areas depict small blood pools underneath corpses. Drugs are a recurrent theme in the game: Happy Pills, Bouncy Bubbly Beverage, SMASH, G-Nine, and Brain Bump are fictional drugs frequently referenced, and sometimes consumed by players’ character; the dialogue also references drug terminology (e.g., “We won’t finish our mission if everyone is too high to walk straight”; “[W]hy did I bring along a known substance abuser”; “Or maybe my drug induced dreams…hallucinating pink giraffes roller skating…”). The word “bastard” appears in the game.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers:  All dialogue is fully subtitled, although there are no options to change font size or color.  All audio cues have a visual component, and it doesn’t appear that enemies can surprise a player by appearing offscreen.  This game is fully accessible. 

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Jeff Ortloff

Jeff Ortloff has been around since the birth of the console era.He’s played everything from Pong to Marvel’s Spider-Man with a near-inhuman lack of skill.He’s been writing about games since about 2007, and is thrilled to be part of the GameCritics.com team.

He juggles this passion for gaming with his most important job, being a husband and dad.Fortunately, his boys are growing up as gamers (with decidedly more skill, much to his annoyance) and he has a very understanding spouse.

He hangs out on Twitter sometimes as @JPSJeffOrt, Facebook FAR less frequently, and while he misses performing all the interviews from his former online life, he’s much more relaxed now!

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