Investigate a terrorist attack at a forgotten Soviet complex.
PC Release: December 3, 2007
By Ian Coppock
When any one of my console-rearing compadres asks me why I dare shy away from the bedazzled VCRs that pass for consoles these days, my first response is “mods”. I don’t care how many pixels fit on the side of your race car; the PC’s access to indie content is not just impressive, it is unsurpassed. I’ve played mods that are better than most big-budget console exclusives, and by Christ do I relish that irony.
That, and any mod of Half-Life is something I’m likely to enjoy.
PARANOIA!!!!! (gotta love those all caps), is a mod released a few years back by a group of aspiring Russian horror masters. Your character is an anonymous major in the Russian Spetznaz (special forces) who’s just recovered from a long stint in a war hospital.
Before I keep going, I must add that it’s so refreshing to see the phrases “Russians” and “military shooter” in a sentence that says something other than “military shooter, shoot the Russians dead yay”. One of my biggest gripes with modern shooters is the constant casting of Russians as villains (how many decades ago did the Cold War end?) I get the whole “geopolitical foe” bullshit but at that point there are whole hosts of nationalities that could be cast as enemies instead. Innovation is in short supply up in Triple-A land.
I spawned into a Spetznaz base and spent some time soaking up one of the dreariest atmospheres I’ve seen in a mod. The Russian military base is to be sipped, not chugged, faithfully replicating the philosophy behind Half-Life itself. I walked my character around the base, chatting with some guitar-playing soldiers, a friendly nurse and a grumpy armorer. The game’s voice-acting is in Russian, which, combined with the English subtitles, made for excellent immersion.
Anyway, after firing a gun and saluting the flag, my character got his squad together to liberate an old factory captured by terrorists. The initial stages of the game were fairly pedestrian; open room, clear out baddies, sneak down hallway, rinse and repeat. Everything went to shit a few hours in, though, when my character woke up miles beneath the earth in some pit.
Cut off from my men, and in an area that didn’t show up on any map, I started to get the suspicion that fishyness was abounding, and immediately confirmed that suspicion when a gentleman with no skin or lips shambled around the corner and proceeded to high-five my face with his claws.
Falling into a zombie-filled Soviet bunker isn’t my idea of a picnic, but your character is a Spetznaz soldier and quite the badass. Combat in PARANOIA!!!!! is fairly standard FPS mechanics, with some twists. For one thing, your character is actually good with a knife, a trait that many shooters neglect, apparently because just having the knife is awesome enough. It’s just too bad that the knife is about as deadly as a drawing of a knife.
PARANOIA!!!! adds a few realistic touches to its gameplay. For one thing, a headshot is a one-hit kill. No, not on the enemies, on you. Well, the enemies as well, but yeah. You can die from headshots. Not to worry, though, your character can put on a heavy-duty blast helmet that affords much better protection at the cost of visibility. The damn thing is clunky, but that’s alright, because the toss-up between visibility and a functioning cerebellum keeps things interesting in PARANOIA!!!!
Most of PARANOIA!!! Is spent deep underground. Guiding the Spetznaz major through pitch-black tunnels and blood-soaked laboratories is made challenging by the quietness of the monsters, who are fond of introducing themselves with the traditional Siberian greeting of shoulder-gnawing. Additionally, health and ammo are scarce. Most times you’ll be running quite low, forcing you to conserve resources and, consequently, pick battles. These two elements working in cahoots gave me a wallop of a shiver in PARANOIA!!!
Much like Half-Life, this game’s story is somewhat minimalist. There are no named characters, and your objectives are often shrouded in mystery until you’ve completed them. I like PARANOIA!!! because the story, while told from a minimalist perspective, is anything but bare-bones. It’s open-ended and vague, leaving you to draw your own conclusions on most of the plot points. Your character is a silent protagonist and all NPCs are only encountered a few times, so there’s not much room for character development.
The mod name of PARANOIA!!! is not a coincidence, nor just a case of perhaps a little over-capitalization. Your character is alone and trapped beneath the surface, and even as you meet other people, you start to get the sense that you’ve seen and done too much. Friends begin to become adversaries and your push deeper becomes as much a quest for the source of the monsters as for some sort of security. This mod’s groove comes from that very feeling, as well as the spooky environments.
There isn’t much more to say about this game’s plot without ruining it, but I will say that the story went places I wasn’t expecting. Odds are, you won’t need to worry about this being a Left 4 Dead ripoff.
PARANOIA!!! is an original game with some refreshing concepts, as well as a few that I thought had died in the 90’s. Because it’s a mod of Half-Life, this game has carried with it the wonky, crappily scripted AI of Half-Life. Your fellow soldiers will often stop following you or stare longingly at walls. Compounding this frustration is you failing the mission every time your squadmate dies.
Pardon me, but I don’t see how that makes any sense. What, so if my squadmate gets his head ripped off, I’m obligated by some military code to step out of cover with my hands up? Screw that. Escort missions are bad news bears.
PARANOIA!!!! has some less than stellar visuals, but it has competent level design. Most of the game is eerily silent, but combat is accompanied by ridiculous rock music. Against human enemies, this felt appropriate, but for the horror sections it reduced the tension and made the sequence feel like an action film. A bit more selectivity with the music would have been nice.
But, I digress. PARANOIA is an intelligently built work of love and the best Half-Life mod I’ve yet played. This game has also redeemed the Eastern European gaming scene for me after that god-awful Afterfall. Even if none of this interests you, the mod is free, another reason why PC gaming rules. Go to Mod DB or Desura and give it a try. You have to have Half-Life to play it, of course, so if you don’t, buy it, play it, and THEN play this game.
You can buy PARANOIA here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.