The Pandora Directive

Posted by Philip Jong.
First posted on 03 September 1996. Last updated on 09 May 2012.
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The Pandora Directive
Can Tex solve the mystery of The Pandora Directive?
The Pandora Directive
The sensual Regan or the chaste Chelsee? Tough choice!
The Pandora Directive
The tweaked engine creates an enticing world to explore.

In this sequel to the classic Under A Killing Moon, Access Software has succeeded in improving and expanding on a series that is once the crowd jewel of interactive movie games. This time around, the goofy, wisecracking private investigator Tex Murphy finds himself in the midst of the greatest secret of the twentieth century—the UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico. Using an improved game engine first appeared in Under A Killing Moon, the player can fully explore the post apocalyptic San Francisco and beyond. Two levels of gameplay, three narrative paths, and seven different endings all spell out an adventure extravaganza that is awaiting to happen. As Tex says, "Danger is like Jello. There's always room for more."

The year is 2043. The place is post apocalyptic San Francisco, USA. A prominent scientist named Gorden Fitzpatrick has hired your alter ego, Tex, to look for his missing colleague and friend Thomas Malloy. As Tex picks up on Malloy's trail, he is trapped in a mortal game of cat and mouse on the greatest secret of this century—the UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico. Tex suspects that a NSA agent named Jackson Cross may be the key to the deadly conspiracy within the government on extraterrestrial life. Along the way, Tex meets the beautiful Regan Madsen, who shows both a professional and a love interest toward Tex. At the end, Tex must make a final morale stand to either be a hero by risking himself to save the world, or be a crowd by giving into the materialistic rewards of merely earthy possessions.

Using essentially the same "Virtual World" engine as Under A Killing Moon, the player can freely explore and interact with any object of interest in a 3D-like environment. To make the this virtual world a believable one, live actions are shot against a blue screen and later recombined with computer generated backdrops. All the film sequences are directed by the veteran Australian director Adrian Carr, whose past directorial credits include Quigley Down Under, Man from Snowy River, and The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The cast is led by Chris Jones, who is also the producer of the game. He is joined by many Hollywood talents that include Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure, War Games), Tanya Roberts (View to a Kill, Beastmaster), and Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Just Cause). Blues musician and Cilo award winner Richie Havens provides the original soundtrack. The game lacks native Windows 95 support. Compatibility with Windows 95 is provided by an utility called Sentry that automatically detects possible program conflicts and allows the user to selectively close them before play begins. Sentry also maintains critical communications with the operating system to insure that any unexpected shutdown of the game is fully recoverable. Multi-disc CD-ROM drives are supported.

The Pandora Directive offers two levels or modes of play. Entertainment mode offers a complete online hint system to assist the players with the tougher puzzles, whereas Game Play mode offers the expert players more puzzles, and higher bonus points but no hints. The puzzles are numerous in numbers and escalate appropriately in difficulty as the game progresses. This prevents a novice player from being frustrated too early into the game. The puzzles are logic oriented or inventory based. Only rarely the puzzles involve arcade sequences. Character interactions are through branching dialog trees with responses given out in Full Motion Video clips. A special feature in character play is the choice the player makes to have Tex follow one of three different "narrative paths" depending on decision the player made for Tex throughout the game—Mission Street, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, or Lombard Street. This combines with six different endings of the story to truly maximize the replay value of this game. Although the documentation cites seven distinct endings exist in the game, there are in fact only six unique ending sequences among the three narrative paths--two in Mission Street, three in Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and one in Lombard Street. One ending in Boulevard of Broken Dreams and one in Lombard Street, however, can each be reached in two ways, thus giving a total of eight variations in the ending.

The Pandora Directive indeed sets an example to which all other interactive movie adventure games should aspire. It has a well paced story with complex character development. The videos provide a rewarding rich cinematic experience without intruding into the central element of gameplay—the puzzles. The game unfolds over 9 days or chapters. The attention to details in the game production is instantly apparent when narrative comments are given out to virtually for any object that can be clicked in this virtual world. The player can even crouch down or look up to search a location for clues.

Due to the size of the game, CD swapping is common. This can be very annoying when one has to travel back and forth before locations that are stored on different discs. Fortunately, a smart feature on the travel map marks all the locations that are stored on the CD which is currently in play, so one can at least minimize the swapping. In a deliberate design decision by the developer, the online hint system only allows the player to switch from Game Play mode to Entertainment mode but not vice versa. Similarly, it automatically drops the player from Game Play to Entertainment mode the moment the player asks for a hint. Such a rule is unnecessarily harsh, since the player is then essentially locked out from the extra locations and puzzles that are only available in the more difficult setting. There should be some lenience in resetting the mode of play. The timed puzzle can be frustrating to novice players.

Notwithstanding a few game design and performance flaws, The Pandora Directive still shines truly as a brilliant piece of entertainment software. Even the subdue Hollywood acting compliments the delightful but somewhat hammy acting by Jones. In the end, The Pandora Directive is an engaging detective adventure that mixes a futuristic story with a dash of modern real life mystery on the Roswell incident.

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