When you hear the name Paranautical Activity, you may think this game is about a grand voyage, a ghostly horror or maybe both. Instead, upon starting the game and selecting your weapon style, you are greeted with a pixelated first-person shooter featuring randomly generated stages and a myriad of enemies. This game is made up of fast-paced gameplay, boss rooms and shops for new weapons.
There are several weapon choices to cater to different play styles, such as low strength with high rate of fire, heavy hitting with low health and, of course, the well-balanced default weapon. Defeating bosses progresses you the next level via an elevator that has eight floors. The basic controls are relatively intuitive and the music is rapid and exciting, providing a quick entry into the game and direction for progress. In the first few minutes everything seems to be going pretty well, but the deeper into the game you get, the more confusing it becomes.
Here’s what I liked:
Weapon choices — As I mentioned, there are several weapon choices to choose from at the start to best fit your play style, and there are dozens more throughout the levels to find and purchase. This wide variety includes crossbows, grenade launchers, machine guns and even katanas. Being able to choose the weapons, swap them out mid-level and, in some cases, boost their power adds a great element of strategy to the game. Having two weapon slots allows for mixing short-range and long-range, melee and mid-range or any combination of those.
Soundtrack — The background music of this game is spot on for the gameplay. Fast-paced strafing and shooting combined with rapid, non-stop dubstep almost distracts from some of the challenges this game has. As a quick action shooter, the music choice could not be better. It keeps the energy pumping as you run around each floor to ensure there is never a dull moment. Music should always fit the mood and Paranautical Activity nailed it.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Lack of explanation — The closest thing to an explanation is the weapon selection screen showing different stats at the very beginning. Apart from that, nothing seems to have any explanation or hint of how it’s used. Some notable examples would be the icons that appear below the main display (see picture above), the area the game takes place and items for purchase in each level. How do I activate these items? Am I on a haunted cruise ship? What weapon did I just accidentally purchase? The world may never know.
Missing narrative — There is no sign of any story or hint of any plot. No clues throughout the levels, no voice-over narration, no cutscenes, there is only dubstep. This is especially irritating given the name and cover art of the game suggest it is more of a horror or aquatic-themed game. If there was even a slight plot that thickens in each level, this would be worth the frustration of perma-death. As it stands, you kill enemies and a boss and move on to the next level still just as confused as when you started.
Enemy randomizer — Randomly generated enemies for every room on every reset is great; randomly generated enemies and bosses of widely varying difficulties is not. Each room on each floor is randomly generated every time you play, providing constant excitement — except when a room full of land sharks swarm you on the first floor, right before you face the same boss that just killed you on the sixth floor. As you progress there are opportunities to increase available health and strength but typically not before any room or boss on the first floor. This causes a random string of deaths early on nearly removing strategy completely. You could be at the last boss on the final floor one minute and a 10-death streak on the first floor the next. Some kind of difficulty formula based on what floor you are on would alleviate this.
Paranautical Activity leaves an impression less of a game that provides challenge and desire for completion, but more of a game that causes befuddlement and irritation. Though the gameplay itself is fun, the lack of any balance to the difficulty at early stages of the game — even on the easiest difficulty — is maddening. Combine that with the lack of narrative and abundant confusion throughout, and you’re left with a game that will likely collect virtual dust in your digital library, although perhaps only until a guide of some sort is created or instructions are added.
Score: Limited Appeal
Paranautical Activity was developed by Code Avarice and published by Digerati. It was released on April 29, 2016 for $9.99. A copy was provided by Digerati for review purposes. Click here for more information on XBLA Fans’ new scoring system.