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PARANOIA from Black Shamrock is a Steam media game based on the role-playing game 'Paranoia' created in the 1980's by Greg Costikytan, Dan Gelber and Eric Goldberg. It is one of the truly enjoyable games from WEST END GAMES, a wonderful role-play game company that went bankrupt in the late 1990's.

 

The loss of WEST END GAMES had a large impact on the rpg community for a while due to the popularity of their mainly licensed game systems; Ghostbusters, Indian Jones, Hercules & Xena, Star Wars, Tales from the Crypt and Tank Girl all following the Torg System and several of them using the generic MasterBook system which was based around the excellent D6 role-play system. If you already like tabletop rpg's or fancy trying an easy but complex one then find yourself a copy of the WEG MasterBook rules and any of the associated theme books.

 

So back to PARANOIA. The first thing you are told at the beginning of this PC/Steam game, once the Title screen appears, is to 'Press Any Key' (no jokes about there not being an 'any' key on your keyboard, please). Anyone who has previously played (more like 'lived') PARANOIA will immediately be wary; the question in their heads will be "Have I got clearance to Press Any Key?"  PARANOIA, the game/s is/are all about not really ever knowing what you can and cannot do, where you can and cannot go, and especially who you can trust. Never be surprised when a Boss, a friend, even a family member orders or asks you to do something seemingly inoccuous for them, only to find that you have moved out of your colour zone. 

 

What PARANOIA characters can do and where they can go is based on a colour/chart system. Be found in the wrong colour and you will be terminated. There is no hiding, the Computer sees all and knows all, making up whatever it wants if it doesn't have the data. The Computer is your Friend. Luckily each character is only a clone and there are several clones of each character, thus when one is terminated another takes its place; (un)natural procession if you will.

 

PARANOIA: Happiness is Mandatory, the computer game as described by the webpage:

ABOUT THIS GAME
Paranoia is a CRPG that takes place in humanity's last idyllic refuge, Alpha Complex, which is controlled by Friend Computer. All citizens enjoy a life of joy, cheerfulness and cleanliness. Questioning the benevolence of Friend Computer is an act of treason. Having access to information beyond your security clearance is an act of treason. Refusing to drink your daily dose of Bouncy Bubble Beverage is an act of treason. Treason is punishable by summary execution.

Stay alert! Trust no one!
Traitors are everywhere, plotting to destroy The Computer, Alpha Complex itself, and our precious way of life. Identify them, report them – or eliminate them as the treasonous scum they are. Keep your laser handy!
You lead a team of Troubleshooters with RED security clearance. Your job is to find trouble – and shoot it. Friend Computer monitors your every move, alert for any sign of treason, and will undoubtedly reward you for prompt and heroic action in defence of Alpha Complex – or punish treasonable acts, possibly by assigning you to be used as reactor shielding.

 

The order of clearance colours is taken from the Spectrum but although the lowest colour is Infrared (Black in-game) it is not a playable colour. Characters can have clearance in Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, and Ultraviolet (White in-game). It works in a back-check manner, thus Orange characters can safely enter Orange and Red areas but not any colour from Yellow onward. Ultraviolet characters are rare, usually NPCs, can virtually go anywhere and do anything with a superior air of course, plus they can get closer to the computer than anyone without being terminated.

 

Players control (sort of, perhaps a little but not always) four clones within a complex Complex. The objective is hazy, as it seems all you have to do is ensure that the clones survive as long as possible and follow the rules of the Computer, their friend and yours. Hopefully this [Video] will take you to one of the online videos promoted by the Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory website. 

There are four clones in the group and you can select one or more (up to all 4) by drawing a line-box around them, then they will all move to where you point but unless you give other commands when they get there, such as search, open or shoot they will just mill around until they receive new orders.

 

This PC game is a 'lite' version of the tabletop Paper & Pencil role-play game. It plays on the popularity of the rpg but doesn't quite reach the edge-of-seat tenterhooks, the uneasiness of searching and discovery, the terrible (and terribly funny) tricks and traps that a cunningly clever GM/Computer can spring on the unsuspecting player characters.

In the Steam version the Computer doesn't see everything (as it does in the rpg). I have entered my group of RED clearance clones into an Orange area and set off an alarm, but by running away quickly and some distance (the characters not me) from the Orange area I managewd to keep my party intact, this wouldn't happen in the rpg.

 

The dark dystopian world most people to believe is the setting for the rpg is not so dark here. Having played in a role-play-session where one of my character's clones was terminated for knowing what a 'tree' was (he didn't have Green clearance) I can say from experience that the dystopian world isn't all grim and grisly - though it is quite grisly and thus also often grim.

Paranoia the rpg is renown as much for its dark humour as it is its technological weirdness, yet despite a few minor mild attempts, Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory doesn't quite have the sharp, cutting-edge, comedic drama of its predecessor.

There is a lot of the rpg in this game but the one thing, out of all the possibilities, that it doesn't have is the urgency a good Role-play GM can emphasise. You can stop, look around, send one character out on a surveillance mission, note your surroundings etc all without fear for your safety. The rpg rarely lets players stop and think.

 

What it does have for the player is Frustration, deservedly with a capital F. It is a puzzle solving game where to open doors in the maze-like complex you need to find the correct switches or keys. What you can do though is go around picking up all the Loot you can find and then crafting it into something useful. You can shoot barrels and crates but this generally yields nothing and costs you heavenly in bullets - you may have an awful lot of ammo to begin with, but sensless crate slaying will soon empty your guns and then you need to buy or find more.

 

PARANOIA: HAPPINESS is MANDATORY is a quirky puzzles and passages game. It matters not if you have played the PARANOIA role-play game though if you have you'll have some idea of what to expect but little advantage in how to react to it.

It is due for general release early 2020 so at present I have no price to share. 

 

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015