Digerati re-energize the troubled rogue-like FPS on Vita providing some great shooting fun, but the game suffers from a lack of polish and performance issues that hold back the experience.
World-building & Story
As is fairly common from games in the rogue-lite genre, there’s very little storytelling on show here. Upon booting up, you pick a character from the startup screen (who in reality is nothing more than a disembodied weapon with a set of stats) and are plonked into the world without any direction.
This is where the world-building comes in to fill the gaps. The game quickly populates its corridors with various nautically-themed items and enemies; after fighting a merman or giant whale you’ll be able to begin crafting your own narrative about why you’re trapped in this dank, dark underwater world.
I’d personally have preferred a little more development in the narrative department – at least some direction as to why you’re doing what you’re tasked to – but the game does a decent job of creating an atmosphere in its underwater prison while allowing you to drop into the action almost immediately.
Presentation & Sound
Visually, the game is presented in a cube-based way by everything being created with quite blocky shapes, not too far removed from something like Minecraft. It’s a rather unique look but not one I was particularly a fan of and I definitely wouldn’t say the game was much of a looker, despite some bosses being rather visually spectacular.
In-fitting with the game’s nautical theme, the rooms themselves are dark, dreary places – although occasional variations in this will appear from time to time, by-and-large your time will be spent running between dimly lit areas without much flair to them.
However, a few efforts are made to do some interesting things with lighting. Most rooms will have barrels lit on fire which provide some sparse illumination for areas. One room I encountered had floating jellyfish which lit the area they were in, providing some fun visual effects – its little touches like these which give the game life.
Enemy models are generally pretty basic and as previously mentioned, your character is simply a disembodied weapon without any hands or features. Weapon effects range from bland to amusing, but generally the graphical presentation isn’t anything you’re going to be writing home about.
Sound, however, is a different ball game. While sound effects are your typical sci-fi gun noises mixed with underwater effects, it’s the soundtrack which takes centre stage. I was expecting something tense, spooky and sparse to fit the levels you’re speeding through, but it’s actually full of thumping techno tunes. You may think this sounds like it doesn’t fit at all, yet I found it perfect – encouraging me to push forward with pounding beats in the background which soon didn’t seem out of place at all.
Gameplay & Content
At its core, Paranautical Activity is a rogue-like – each playthrough is its own unique entity and while progress is lost at the conclusion of each run, the knowledge you’ve gained is meant to assist with future attempts. Whether or not you like this mechanic is down to personal taste – it’s nearly always frustrating to me, and this title does it no better or worse than its contemporaries.
Moment-to-moment gameplay is in the form of a first-person-shooter, albeit a rather loose one. All the basic elements are here – you can carry two weapons at a time and switch them on the fly; you can throw bombs (basically grenades); you’ll get feedback depending on the weapon used etc. What the game is lacking is anything more advanced – no aiming down sights; advanced movement techniques (although you can jump) or array of different abilities, leaving the title feeling a little sparse at times.
It makes up for these shortcomings by variety – in both weapons and upgrades. Like any good rogue-lite, although progress isn’t kept after a run, you can acquire a variety of boosts and perks – some more beneficial than others – during a playthrough. Gun selection is plentiful – you’ll have the chance to equip anything from a simple pistol to a laser rifle that needs to be charged for accuracy. The best part of this is that each of these will change the way you play – having a boomerang scythe is very different to having a shotgun as the former requires you to anticipate the return trajectory of the weapon while the latter requires you to get close to your target, adding variety to the gameplay.
Adding to this is a character selection before starting a run, each with slightly different abilities and starting weapons. This again changes the way you play – you can choose to be speedy with little health or a slow tank who can take a lot of hits depending on what you prefer, which I found a nice touch (as I was terrible at the former).
Enemies will challenge you to think and adapt to each one you face. For example, bigger foes may fire a stream of bullets but provide a large target to hit while smaller ones may do less damage but move so quickly that you have to strike them while you can. And of course, the more you learn about them, the more you adapt your play-style – which may cause you to adopt a new class or weapon upon starting a new run.
Key to any rogue-like game is movement (in order to dodge enemy fire and keep yourself alive) and generally things are pretty good here – you can’t strafe, but jumping is available and your character’s speed will vary based on what buffs you have equipped. Sadly the one thing that lets movement down is the framerate – which isn’t unstable so much as it is constantly low. I never found it hindered my experience, although there were times I was wondering whether Paranautical Activity was a much faster game than I was witnessing on Vita.
Content wise, the title should keep you occupied for a while – there’s not a sea of unique things to do here, but replaying to progress further is constant and re-runs are encouraged due to the procedurally generated nature.
While Paranautical Activity doesn’t excel in any one particular area, it’s a competent shooter rogue-like and provides some nice genre variety on the Vita. Things like aiming and enemy variety could do with tightening up, but the procedural elements will ensure that if the game hooks you, there’s plenty of reason to return beyond the initial run.