When I first heard the title Paranautical Activity, I honestly thought it was a parody of sorts of one of my favorite films, Paranormal Activity. You know the one. That’s right, the one. Those other films didn’t happen. Anyways, upon further research, what the game actually is quite different. Yes, as the title suggests, there are ghosts. Well, kind of. I’m honestly not sure what to call the enemies in the game, even after pretty much memorizing the level layouts and enemy types within. Some are Cthulhu-esque, some are plain weird, while others are your standard fare grunts. More on this later. The game also gives off a Doom or Wolfenstein 3D kind of shooter vibe, while mixing in some elements clearly lifted from Spelunky.
The UI for Paranautical Activity is just atrocious, and is clearly ported straight from the PC version, rather clumsily, I might add. Nope, you can’t press A/B/X/Y or any other method of input you’d come to expect from a console game in 2016. You are required to move the left analog stick to move an onscreen cursor to the text object you need to select within the menu. Not only is this jarring, it feels as though the developer hasn’t put any real time or consideration into porting this game onto Xbox One. There’s no control schemes to look at, brightness options, the option to invert your camera horizontally, or anything else you would come to expect in a 2016 console game.
As far as graphics go, don’t expect much here. as everything is presented in the Minecraft style of blocky 3D pixels, although lacking the high level of quality of that title.
There’s also not a bunch of replay value found within this title, as there is no story at all, and the potentially exciting Hardcore and Infinite modes are extremely difficult to unlock, as the Classic mode is hard to enough as it is. At the start of each level, starting at floor one and working your way down to the insanely difficult eighth floor. When you come off the elevator, you’re greeted with randomly-generated rooms including your typical room filled with an assortment of monsters, rooms for buying weapons or power-ups, rooms filled with random items, boss and micro-boss rooms. These bosses must be defeated in order to activate the elevator that might or might not be in that room, due to the random nature of this title. Not a whole lot of strategy is required in these firefights (sometimes literally), unfortunately. Most of my time shooting things in this game was quite honestly just jumping and shooting at the monsters, which worked, much to my surprise. What I do like about the encounters is actually the randomness to it. Each run feels like a reward in and of itself, because you can get into a groove with these enemies when you start memorizing the building blocks for the rooms, and props to Code Avarice for making it so quick to just pop in and out of runs. Most times, I felt myself actually enjoying myself just shooting things, doing many more runs than I wanted to, and spending much more time on the strategy of a run than I wanted to.
The weapons you’re afforded in Paranautical Activity are, well, hard to learn and hard to master, in every aspect of the phrase. As with most things concerning the game, nothing is explained, but you just have to accept and move along, because, really, you have nothing else to do. You learn as you go a whole bunch. The four loadouts you can choose from are actually quite interesting to play around with, though, so it kind of counteracts this feeling, if just for a few seconds. David Bowie (pun very much implied, no doubt) has you wielding a crossbow and as a relatively fast fire rate and deals quite a bit of damage, even to bosses. Gorton’s melee weapon gives you a Kill Bill vibe with incredible speed, counteracting that with low health and a spotty shotgun as your main weapon. For the purposes of this review I used The Tank, which is exactly what it sounds like, with a big Civil War (no, not the Marvel one) type cannon for a secondary and a shotgun for your primary, giving you a great deal of health in the process. This class is honestly the only class I really had no big problems with, as the health boost definitely makes the game at least 50% easier. Well, OK, melee weapons requiring ammo to function was a bit ridiculous, but as stated just a few sentences ago, you learn to just #DealWithIt.
There’s not much in the way of sound design, either. If there were sound effects for basic things like moving, jumping, shooting, I sure didn’t hear them. When I did hear things, they were entirely too loud, even at low volumes, especially with the electronic/dubstep soundtrack the game sports, which is great, I just wish I hadn’t almost went deaf listening to it.
With the enemies, I feel like developer Code Avarice got either “Cloud 9 high” or just watched a bunch a D-level action movies like Sharknado and the ones SyFy likes to put in the 2AM slots, you know the ones. I mean, you’ve got land sharks (no left shark, sadly), wizards (not from the moon), demons, terrifying, huge flying skulls, missle-toting giant tortoises, Nazis, and a whole lot more, and like I said earlier, this is what makes the randomness great, because you never know what you’re getting. I don’t hate all roguelikes, honest. Just the unfair ones. When you kill the insane enemies, you see an explosion of pixels, dropping loot like ammo, health, armor, and coins you can maybe spend in the Gift Shop. As you progress in this title, you get new weapons like the Recoil Rifle, which I’m still not entirely sure what exactly it does, enemy types like disappearing ninjas, power ups like double jump that ensure no two runs are the same.
Paranautical Activity is a fast paced first person shooter with roguelike elements that feels like someone tried really hard to recreate Doom, but was really into Minecraft, and wanted to just make it over reliant on PC design. If you don’t like games that punish you, chances are you won’t like this game. If you do, you’ll find yourself playing this game multiple times through, trying to 100% the entire game. If none of these things interest you, just listen to the soundtrack. It’s pretty great.
Paranautical Activity is available now on Xbox One and PC for $9.99. A code was provided by Digerati Distribution for the purpose of this review.