Here’s an interesting looking title. Paranoia: Happiness Is Mandatory is a top-down RPG based on the tabletop game Paranoia. While I never heard of them before, the setting sounds intriguing, but maybe a bit cliche. A little bit Orwellian dystopia where there’s always someone watching and having free thought is blasphemous. But with a splash of dry humour.
I’m still very early in the game, but here are some thoughts that I have that you should know if you’re curious if it’s any good.
Friend Computer Is Watching
The premise here is that you are born a clone, and is designated to be Team Leader of Troubleshooters, a group of problem solvers. But in this world where everyone obeys and hail the all-seeing Friend Computer, there’s not much room for creative solutions. Unless you want to be branded a traitor.
It makes for one cool mechanic. Obey the rules or you’ll get infractions that make you ever closer to be branded a traitor. But in the first few hours, expect yourself to be bumbling about and rack these infractions like crazy if you play it like a normal CRPG.
Roam outside of the designated colour area where you don’t have access? That’s an infraction. Asking Friend Computer of something you should already know? Infraction. Try to make the situation better by deflecting and asking about something else, but that something else is above your level of clearance? Infraction. Misclick on an object and ended up doing vandalism? Infraction.
There is a confessional booth, where you can confess your wrongdoings and hope to be pardoned, but if you pick the wrong choice, well, you just get more infractions instead.
Don’t get me wrong, from a writing standpoint, I love that I being a dumb-dumb bumbling over things and trying really hard to fit in only to be branded as possibly a traitor. But from a systems standpoint, I don’t like being punished this severely this early in the game, especially when most of it is honest mistakes.
There are early hints of opportunities to actually play as a traitor, and maybe opportunities to be a double agent either for and against other factions. But so far I see no through-line in following such route.
As for the RPG side, it’s rather simple, for the better. Combat takes place in real-time, with a pause button. Your team of four Troubleshooters can be controlled as a group or individually for tactical advantage. It’s nothing too crazy, and nothing to write home about either, just serviceable.
Paranoia also has stats points, a simple one, that determines how well your other actions are and how likely you pass skill checks. The strong point of the game so far is the writing, where it really sells you the idea of this “happy” dystopia. But look at the right places, you can see through the facade.
I worry that Paranoia might not have much depth in the gameplay aspect at this stage. At least the mission variety sounds promising. The first mission has you escorting a robot through dangerous sewers (the robot takes no damage, don’t worry). The next has you investigate a murder situation.
Paranoia: Happiness Is Mandatory has some interesting hooks, but I’m unsure if it has enough of it. The world is still fascinating to explore in the early hours, but we shall see if it stays so throughout the game.
Paranoia: Happiness Is Mandatory is out now on PC via the Epic Games store.