Seems like pretty much every franchise is crossing media boundaries these days! There’s a Witcher show on Netflix, for instance, and I’m not sure anyone saw that coming back when the first Witcher game came out a decade or so ago – to say nothing of people who were only familiar with the book series at the time. Sometimes, though, certain media properties just don’t get the attention that they might. Where’s my Earthdawn game, for instance? Where’s something based on The Esoterrorists?
At least the industry finally released a game based on West End Games (now Mongoose Publishing) Paranoia series with Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory. Friend Computer would probably have something to say if they didn’t.
In the post-apocalyptic future, humanity lives under earth in a gigantic bunker known as Alpha Complex and under the digital finger of the authoritarian AI known as Friend Computer. Well, humanity mostly consists of clones these days, but you know what I mean – and if you don’t, don’t question it. Only traitors question things. Friend Computer doesn’t want anything to do with traitors and will happily disintegrate anyone who shows signs of treasonous impulses. He especially hates mutants.
In Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory, you play as a mutant! Let’s hope Friend Computer doesn’t find out. Specifically, you’re a clone with mutant powers who happens to be part of a Troubleshooter team – one of Friend Computer’s elite (?) squads who solve problems in Alpha Complex. These problems include things like sanitary issues, rogue robots and, of course, treason. Make sure you do a good job. Failing to accomplish your tasks is something a traitor would do.
You’ll get things done by joining up with several other Troubleshooters in a squad. Paranoia plays out a bit like the classic real-time-with-pause RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, though there’s a little more action here. Basic gameplay involves blasting away at baddies before they can blast you in a straightforward fashion, but you’ve got usable items, special abilities and mutant powers (shh!) to spice things up a little – even if making sure everyone’s shooting at the same thing is usually enough to win fights.
Really, Paranoia’s gameplay isn’t what this is all about, though. It’s functional and not much else, but you’re probably playing this because you’re been a fan of the tabletop game for years and are happy to finally see it arrive in a new format. Happiness is Mandatory certainly nails the Paranoia feel – you’ve got your color-coded clearance levels, a Treason meter that rises if you don’t pay attention to your color-coded clearance levels, and all kinds of people – mutants and otherwise – trying to get away with things away from Friend Computer’s ever-present eye. It’s all played for laughs, of course. That’s a nice change from the usual doom-and-gloom of this kind of setting.
Happiness is Mandatory does a pretty good job of nailing what I imagined Paranoia would look like. It’s the post-apocalypse through the eyes of Mad Magazine. Goofiness is the order of the day rather than terror, and even Friend Computer is closer to a parody of George Orwell than Big Brother himself. The game runs and plays pretty well; I only encountered a single crash throughout my playthrough, which is pretty solid for a title that’s not quite on the AAA end of the spectrum.
Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory isn’t a tactical RPG masterpiece, but it’s a great take on a classic setting with gameplay that works well enough to hold things together. Besides, isn’t grouping up and focusing fire on whatever enemy looked the scariest pretty much what your squad always did in the tabletop game anyway? It’s a little surprising the Paranoia franchise took this long to make it to the interactive digital entertainment realm before now, but it’s nice that it’s finally here. Friend Computer approves.