If you've paid even the slightest attention to games in the past few years, you're now very aware of what a roguelike is. Even games that have little to anything to do with the traditions of the genre have introduced randomness as a mechanic in order to take advantage of the buzz the term now generations. However, as ubiquitous as roguelikes have become in the last few years on PC, there have been few to try it in an FPS, and fewer still that succeed when they try. Paranautical Activity was actually one of the first as it went through Early Access, but controversy stemming from the game's original developer delayed its full release to just recently when a new publisher bought the rights to the title. It's a good thing too because Paranautical Activity feels like Doom made in a different age, and certainly deserves recognition for setting the standard of what a procedurally generated shooter should be.
There isn't much of a setup to the proceedings here. After choosing from starting guns including crossbows, sickles, and an all-powerful shotgun, you start the game in an elevator. You choose a room, enter it, and the enemies start spawning. More likely than not, this is where your first playthrough of the game will end as well. Enemies come at you fast and furious from the moment they arrive, and it will take a few lives to get used to their patterns of attack. Once you get into the swing of things, you will start picking up random power-ups, finding shops, and discovering how precious your hit points are as you try to explore the game's cavernous arenas.
Where Paranautical Activity really shines is its unique aesthetic. Enemies that would be commonplace in an FPS are paired with bizarre foes that take you by surprise. There are electrified jellyfish right next to teleporting ninjas and land sharks spawning in with floating skulls. Enough of the assailants are themed to the sea to give you a general sense of place, but it's kind of beautiful to see that the theme wasn't limiting at all to the designers. It's clear that fighting a flying eyeball or a Medusa head was too cool not to include, so they threw it in there anyway. It adds to the variety immensely and harkens back to a time early on in FPS games where sprites were reworked or thrown in just because they were available.
Sprites are nowhere to be seen in Paranautical Activity, however. Instead, the game utilizes voxels, only with models of enough complexity to make you feel that the game isn't directly ripping off Minecraft. In fact, combined with the text in your HUD, the models have more of an NES Legend of Zelda vibe to them if anything. This is much more palatable than the soundtrack, which is proudly advertised as an endless loop of dubstep. It's nice that the music doesn't pause between frequent deaths, but it only sometimes fits the action. Some players may find it agreeable, but they'll have to excuse those who would rather run through the DOOM soundtrack on loop instead.
Players won't have much time to listen to the soundtrack though. The game is hard as nails, but not completely unapproachable, giving random item drops and buffs at just the right time to keep things moving. Sadly, the variety of these items doesn't reach the seemingly infinite options of a Binding of Issac, and some of them could do with a bit more explanation as to what they actually do in-game, but even the tiniest buff is well appreciated as you move ever deeper down the elevator shaft.
Minor quibbles aside, Paranautical Activity is easily in the upper echelon of FPS roguelikes. For those who are prepared to face the gauntlet and die over and over, this game is more than happy to challenge your reflexes and fireball dodging ability. It's been said that twitch shooters are a relic of a bygone era, but games like this prove that sentiment wrong and are arguably the next logical step in their evolution. It's a dream really, as Paranautical Activity and games of its ilk offer endless takes on Knee-Deep in the Dead. Only this time with a few fewer keycards lying around.
Paranautical Activity was purchased through Steam by the reviewer who played on a PC.
Have you been searching for a good FPS Roguelike? Do you feel that Paranautical Activity can match with its old school inspirations? Sound off in the comments and let us know!