Since I was so excited by Paranoia for so long, it would be silly not to give it a proper review. It's finally here, so as your comrades in-game like to say often.. 'let's do this'!
When it comes to finding a really high quality single-player experience produced by non-professionals, there isn't really an awful lot to offer. Usually if such a mod exists it's rediculously short and probably uses stock content from the game that may or may not have been altered. Actually producing a 'total-conversion' of a game is a huge task for any engine and many projects start but never quite go the extra mile enough and end up failing. There's been a lot of single-player mods and add-ons released for Half-Life during nearly 10 years of existence, I've certainly played almost every one of those and I can only name two that could be considered to be high-quality and they both begin with 'Poke'. So it's a great pleasure to see something so ambitious actually finished and released. I first came across the Russian TC through a news site in mid 2005, and since then I've been following it's progress for a large part of it's 3 year plus development time. The thing that struck me about Paranoia was how different it was, the fact that it was set in Russia was one thing, but it had a certain 'knack' to it that made me think seriously that this could actually be completed one day, the team were well organised, worked hard and really seemed to love what they did, regularly producing more and more material that showed a level of dedication that I'd rarely come across beforehand. Now that it's released, do I feel the same way about it? Well.. read onwards.
This screenshot from 2005 shows just how much detail the game already had midway through development.
Paranoia is a single-player mod / total conversion for Half-Life 1. You play the role of a soldier serving as part of the Spetsnaz alpha squad, a division of the Russian military. A regular mission to an industrial complex to repel a terrorist threat turns out to be something much more sinister. The first thing that strikes me about Paranoia is how different it is from your average Half-Life mod. As soon as you boot up the game you're treated to a short movie sequence of alpha soldiers doing their stuff, this felt very professional, like I had started up a newly purchased game over a mod that I just downloaded. Beginning the game you start off in the Army base, you're free to wander around, talking to your fellow officers, reading journals / logs on your way around, socialising with scary guitar playing soldiers and disgruntled grunts forced to sweep the floor before eventually receiving an objective to goto the base's infirmary to learn how to use your medical supplies.
Watch out for this guy, he's more scary than anything else in the entire game.. I swear!
At this point the game takes you through an unofficial tutorial with the freedom to explore other areas of the base if you so wish, learning how to use new equipment like your helmet (which flips up and down over your face upon activation and looks rather nifty), then having a quick go on the firing range before you're called to an emergency meeting. From here the game begins properly, your transported to the industrial complex via apc and then ordered to sweep through the area and eliminate the terrorists.
The army base is nicely detailed and genuinely pleasing to the eye.
Paranoia's world feels not that disimilar to Medal Of Honour / Call Of Duty from the idle scripted sequences and speech the characters act out regularly to the way your teammates open doors and cover you whilst you venture through a building, you can't tell them what to do, but they're rarely that far behind. The squad AI is a little odd at times, since they like to get in your way often and don't seem to be able to walk around you when you're in front of them and they run right upto the enemy and fire blindly sometimes which isn't a very sensible idea even if they are invincible (I never witnessed any of my squadmates die once). The atmosphere feels unquestionably like Russia with everyone speaking entirely in Russian with subtitles, and the general construction of the barracks and underground complexes, at no point did I feel that the design could be compared to some generic location from an American game or the like, it was all unique and the textures often complimented that nicely.
The beginning of the Industrial sector, the buildings and powerline at the back are part of the 3D skybox similar to that of Source.
The scripted scenes are well implemented and put together nicely.
Sadly though the texture work also leaves a lot to be desired at times, a lot of the textures are simply touched up photos that really needed more work put into them and the bump maps that emit through them are mostly rendered purely through the Nvidia normal map filter leaving lots of unecessary details on bumped surfaces that look a little too noisey. Normal maps don't work very well on such low-res textures either, I found that turning off the bump feature actually made the game nicer to look at and the 'gloss maps' were so subtle that they are rarely noticable and almost pointless. It's not to say that the technology isn't upto standard, with more work on the texture maps they could have come up with some much prettier results. Other new tech features of the game such as the properly projected flashlight and bloom look fantastic however.
The ugly bench texture is much more horrifying than the dead baby jars!
There are lots of little touches in Paranoia, stepping on a scrurrying rat instantly kills the creature, slattering it's blood and guts over the ground with a 'satisfying' squelch. The brushwork in the game is some of the best ever made for the Half-Life engine, complex objects such as pipes, wires and vehicles that could be modelled are constructed from world geometry with fantastic detail.
It's clear from this that the game is obviously just an excuse to cause harm to virtual rats, ban this sick filth!
Those complex wires are actually made from brushes!
That's not to say that there aren't model props in the game, there's actually nearly 300 of them! Mostly constructed from nice source photos of Russian architecture, they are beautifully constructed and really add to the detail in environments.
The office props here really bump up the detail in this room.
The same amount of detail is also applied to the character models, the game features some of the most detailed npcs and monsters for a Half-Life engine mod, with super smooth facial details, working hands and fluid expressions. Some of the animatons are borrowed from Condition Zero: Deleted Scenes whilst others appear to be completely new and really shine through, bringing Paranoia's unique characters to life. Creatures are mostly well done, but without giving away spoilers, some look rather poor in comparison to others, probably due to using old models which never got enhanced to the standard set by others.
The terrorists are predictably middle-eastern.
Most of the weapons you use are quite effective but some are next to useless. All the weapons are genuine Russian arms and of course the ak is in there as well as a powerful machinegun not that disimilar in power to an m60, I found these to be my primary arms through the game, rarely using anything else. I never once used the knife and the mp5 came to me when I already had several much more powerful weapons and plenty of ammo. Speaking of which, you'll have to make most shots count in the early stages of the game, since you wont pickup much extra ammo and you're unable to steal enemy weapons at all.
The useless knife looks a little like a remote explosives detonator.
The gameplay audio is well done, the voicework is great if spoilt slightly by some badly recorded sound files, the excellent radio chatter sounds like it could be taken from a real-life operation and the world and weapon sounds are solid enough. The main game theme music is fantastically well composed by team member J.D. and really helps to create a vibrant atmosphere, unfortunately this is sometimes ruined by some poorly done Metal music from the Russian band SLOT. I'm a big metal fan myself, but I really can't stand repetitive 'nu-metal' with poorly composed riffs. It's rather irritating to actually feel genuinely frightened by some of the subtle horror audio only for it to be ruined with the change to pointless rock music as soon as a zombie gets up from the floor. Even in the more action-oriented sections of the game, it grates on you because it doesn't stop until you've killed every last enemy in the area!
Zombified soldiers are genuinely unsettling at times, but not whilst you've got heavy metal music booming down your ears at a high volume, probably inspired by certain mainstream 'horror' movies... "Ghosts Of Mars".. I'm looking at you.
As the game progresses, what started out well, slowly building upto the main storyline begins to feel rushed, I was surprised to see it end so soon, thinking that there was still a lot more to go but sadly it wasn't the case. The ending is very anti-climatical and leaves you with many questions, not that the storyline is particullarly original, special forces fighting mutated creatures has been done to death many times before and you can probably draw your own conclusions when it comes to the outcome.
Paranoia is short but sweet, it's very well made and has obviously taken a lot of effort and dedication to the game to bring it to the masses and for that they should be praised highly as this is definately the most definitive and complete Half-Life modification to date. It'll leave you wanting more, but with an upcoming SDK release allowing people to easily create custom content, there's further life to Paranoia yet.
Well constructed and highly detailed environments
Excellent character models and animation
Professional sounding audio and ambient musical scores
Some utterly awful music choices ruin the atmosphere in the later stages of the game.
New graphical features rather hit and miss, textures can sometimes look horrendous.
Storyline becomes weak towards the end.
It's Half-Life Jim, but not as we know it. Download now!