Paranoia 2 – The Overlooked Sequel to One of Half-Life’s Most Popular Mods

I was 14 back in 2007 when the first Paranoia came out. Despite not remembering how I came across it or ModDB, I very much remember getting lost in the Russian base at the beginning of the game and rage quitting later on when I couldn’t kill the first zombie collective. Despite me being garbage at mouse and keyboard back then, I still developed very fond memories of Paranoia. Today, I decided to put those memories to the test and redownloaded the stand-alone version of it published in 2014. At the same time, I discovered that it got a sequel back in 2015 made by the same people!

To give my impressions of the first game: Things start off sort of slow but when the dead start rising, I’d say the pacing evens out. Gunplay is a little jank by modern standards but the devs made the enemies very accurate with their shot placement and ammo is quite scarce… so it’s like ‘Stalker balanced’. Nothing ever felt cheap though. Gunfights have to be played tactically; being able to aim down your sights really helps with accuracy and immersion. All and all, it’s definitely one of the better total conversions and something any S.T.A.L.K.E.R. or HROT fan should play if they haven’t already.

Booting up the sequel, I really didn’t know what to expect? Could it live up to the legacy of the original? Was it going to continue the story or spin a new web in the same world as the first? Having just finished it, I’m pleased to say that Paranoia 2 is not just a great sequel but deserves to be considered a heavy weight horror shooter for fans everywhere!

First things first, let me pulverize the elephant in the room. This technically isn’t a Half-Life mod… rather, a game built from the ground up to run on Xash3D, an open-source engine based on the Half-Life engine but wholly original! It was designed to let modders and game devs with experience using GoldSRC (Half-Life 1’s engine) port their creations in a way they can truly claim everything as their own.

I’m not an expert on game engines but I’m guessing Xash3D bends the GoldSRC rules and lets the devs run bigger textures, better lighting and more models on screen. Basically every new room looks just incredible, unique and more hi-res than a game from 1998 could allow. Despite limitations, every corner the player turns is a little dilapidated vista. Who knew a crumbling facility could look so fresh!

Something I really like about the sequel is that it feels like a true horror shooter similar Doom 3 or the original F.E.A.R.. What I mean is its got solid shooting and a really thick atmosphere that thankfully doesn’t rely on jump scares. Walking feels tense not because you’re afraid of being flanked but rather things are just all-around spooky. Typically you see the zombies slowly get up and hobble towards you and the way they do it is just so unnerving! Some zombies wield machine guns which is ridiculous but very cool. They aren’t the smartest soldiers in the game but they definitely hit hard.

The most common tension factor in the shooting comes in the form of balancing your ammo supply and reload timings. I can think of a few segments that challenged my ability to take out a hoard efficiently before they swarmed me and my partner. Lining up headshots and practicing safe reloads was the only force keeping us alive. Speaking of partners, combat isn’t as much of shared role in this one compared to the first Paranoia. Gone was the fear that my buddy was going to sprint towards an enemy but stop firing when they’re an arms length away. For much of the game you’re flying solo and when you do have people with you, they know to keep their distance.

One really clever approach to combat that I don’t think I’ve experienced before was the ability for zombies to knock weapons out of my hands. The image above shows a sprinting scientist zombie who just knocked my automatic pistol out of my hands. I took the snapshot right as I realized I lost my weapon (priorities) and immediately turned around and sprinted a safe distance before pulling out my emergency AK. Fighting this zombie type was genuinely freaky. Get hit once and you might just die a slow, miserable death trying to loop back to your weapon. I wish this zombie type was used more throughout my journey in the underground but when they were a threat, I appreciated their presence.

Speaking of environments, this game pulled what I consider a Resident Evil. You start in dingy bunker corridor thinking the story is going to take you one way and next thing you’re know you’re in a lab taking down the manufactured chaos plaguing the world. I don’t think it’s too spoilery to talk about but I’ll still keep it light. Basically in the first game, you discover some very… Umbrella Corp like secrets that the Russian military has on a need to know basis. In the sequel — set three weeks after the first game — you take on the role of a member of the armed clean up crew. For the most part, all of the environments have been completely redone but from time to time you’ll walk into a room found in the original game which was a neat touch.

One of my favorite aspects of any Half-Life mod is when the designers step away from combat and have the player focus on diegetic navigation. This is when the player knows they need to get from point A to point B but is gated by obstacles only someone intimately familiar with the location could identify. Crawling through air ducts, hopping the railing of ledges, exploring rooms that exist to facilitate needs in the game world but not the player, ect… These are pretty common now days. It’s easy to take the work Valve put into pioneering these concepts back in Half-Life for granted! Like all good Half-Life mods, Paranoia 2 might sound linear in the description but in reality will keep the player feeling like an explorer rather than a sprinter.

For one mission, you’re asked to explore an abandoned archive tasked with collecting as much research as possible. on what was happening down in the underground. A bit of story is given here, showing how research was being conducted in the field of biotechnology. I liked looking at the pictures every time I collected evidence but the text documents were so long and wordy that I stopped reading half way through the first one. They reminded me of how sometimes sci-fi writers go into too much detail describing why things are the way they are as if the player might not be okay with suspending their disbelief. I appreciate the lore but I just think it could have been shown in more ways than info dumps — especially considering how much work went into the level design.

Given that Paranoia 2 is a free, stand-alone game that could probably run perfectly fine on a 10 year old laptop, I’d say anyone interested in this should give it a try. If you’re interested in the Chernobyl disaster, want more solid Half-Life gameplay or just wants to practice their Russian, install this right away!

A download link can be found here if you’re looking to hop right in — it’s about 1GB. Big ups to Paranoia Team for coming through with another fantastic release and also props to the KPL team for fixing bugs, improving visuals and supplying the game with an English localization!