Who could forget the spell that Encom, that Goliath of an institution from the dawn of the digital age, cast in 1982 with its seminal classic
Space Paranoids? A vector-based 3D wonder, Space Paranoids had youngsters teeming the video arcades and computer labs, trying to navigate their virtual tanks through digital labyrinths and dodge the titular paranoia-inducing space ships. With their tractor beams and deadly pincers, those ships became an icon of the '80s, up there with Michael J. Fox, Madonna, and those inscrutable neon-colored hair scrunchies. Now, to celebrate the new 30-year retrospective of the legendary company that will grace movie theaters this December, Encom is releasing Space Paranoids on the web, free for all to play!
Most of the above is a lie. Encom doesn't exist, and Space Paranoids is a fiction. At least it was a fiction: Now it's an advergame! Via the Unity 3D web plugin, as a very clever bit of marketing for the upcoming film Tron Legacy, Disney has released Space Paranoids as though it were a re-release of a classic title, even though it is not a re-release and was never released until it was released just now. Got all that?
You play from the front seat of a virtual tank in a virtual maze, trying to outrun and outgun virtual hostiles. Navigate with either [WASD] or the [arrow] keys, and aim and fire your tank turret with the mouse. An important control feature is the ability to "center" your tank, which is done with the [space] bar. Since you can move in one direction and fire in another, you can sometimes lose the sense of what direction your tank is pointing, so centering is what you do to realign the turret with the tank treads. You have very limited ammo, but you can slowly recharge it at various yellow ammo dumps on the map. This means that, contrary to the usual hail-of-bullets approach of many shooters, you have to make a series of precise potshots before you go scurrying for more ammo with the lumbering enemy hosts in lugubrious pursuit.
Analysis: Even though it inherited the title from the original Tron, Space Paranoids is very aptly named. Because your advantage lies in speed, not firepower, the game encourages a lot of running away and waiting for enemies to come to you. There is never any doubt that you are the hunted, and it can be very tense waiting on an ammo spot to recharge and hearing the ominous mechanical hum of approaching tanks and spacecraft as they slowly stalk towards you.
Space Paranoids is one of the best looking Unity-3D games I have seen. Everything looks and runs very smoothly on my machine, with only a minimum of "jaggediness" in the way some of the maze walls were rendered. The minimalist design serves the game well, in that it both keeps the Unity engine from being overtaxed and enhances the game's retro aesthetic. You will of course need the Unity plugin to run the game, but that is usually easily rectified by downloading and installing it into your browser if you do not have it yet.
The controls take some getting used to. Not everyone likes mouse-and-keyboard controls, especially those with trackpads, but they work pretty smoothly in this case. Adjusting to the concept of "centering" is important to navigating effectively. Learn to center frequently, especially for when you pilot your tank into a corner and want to turn around. Otherwise you have to reverse with no clear way of knowing where you are going. Also, learn to strafe, moving in one direction and shooting to the side, drive-by style. Strafing is handy for quickly striking nearby targets while in motion, particularly obnoxious turrets.
Space Paranoids is not just a good advergame or a nice taste of nostalgia; It's also a fine game in its own right, and a great example of what the Unity engine can do when done well. So take the time to relive the glory days of the computer revolution. Encom thanks you.