Pandorum from Artificial life is based on the upcoming film of the same name, where you play as the lead character who has awoken from cryogenic sleep in a strange spaceship, with no memory of where he is or who he is.
As you roam the ship you eventually make contact with others like yourself, but it soon becomes apparent that you are not alone. Creatures known as hunters roam the corridors, sniffing out your flesh (well this is based on a horror film after all). And they come in various sizes, from the common human-sized hunters to small babies (nasty blighters) and even the odd giant one.
Luckily, you have a multitude of weapons which you can pick up throughout the game, to help you dispose of them, including various blades, blasters and explosives.
The purpose of the game is to navigate the ships’ many corridors and rooms, to uncover the truth of what happened as well as get the, now dormant, ship up and running again. The game is presented in 3rd person (over the shoulder) and plays in a similar fashion to the original Silent Hill on PlayStation. It’s not so much a fast-paced action game, instead of seeing you creep around the ship, wary of impending attacks from hunters. As you explore you pick up journal entries, which help you piece together the story. The levels are often bookended with cutscenes to help drive the story further. While the game does allow for exploration, you are pretty much forced in certain directions by the use of objects blocking your path, or doors that need keycards to gain entry. However, many areas in the game look similar, so it still possible to get lost. Luckily, the game features a map which works a little like a sat nav. It can be viewed from the menu in full or toggled on and off as an overlay as you move around, rotating with you to keep you on the right track.
The main objective of each level is to get from point A to B without dying. You can lose your life into ways. Either by losing health through attacks from hunter – represented by a red health bar – or through what’s called the Pandorum effect – shown as a blue bar. Pandorum is basically like losing your mind, and is affected by sickness from the cryogenic sleep, coupled with the minds inability to accept the monstrous creatures that you encounter. Should your blue bar grow, you will being to feel the effects of Pandorum, which are shown as strange visions which flicker on the screen, or spooky sounds and pulsing camera effects. These remind me somewhat of Eternal Darkness’ insanity effects. Pandorum can be treated with drugs and syringes that you can find around the ship, as well as first-aid packs and dried meatloaf to replenish your health.
All objects you find are stored in your inventory, which is only a touch button away. Here you can use items, read journal entries and select and organize weapons. You can hold two weapons at a time, which can be swapped during the game by tapping the weapon icon. In my experience, it’s best to have one powerful blaster style weapon for long distance attacks, coupled with a blade of some sorts for short-range melee attacks, especially for those nasty screaming baby hunters.
As a movie cash-in, the game is remarkably well presented, and certainly doesn’t feel rushed. The graphics, while low in polygons feature some detailed textures and lighting effects. There are no expansive areas in the game, instead relying on the thrills and scares of dark confined areas, so there are little slowdown or frame rate issues.
What impressed me the most, and where many fails, are the controls. Utilizing a dual thumb-stick approach, you move forward and back with the left stick, as well as strafe left to right. Whereas direction is controlled by the right-hand stick, which in this case is presented as a slider. Interestingly the developer has opted to lock direction to left to right and not allow looking up and down. So it’s more like the classic Wolfenstein in this regard. It doesn’t affect gameplay, as you can tap enemies to lock on, which negates the need to have the look function. This I think works well for the game and removes the possibility of clunky FPS controls which the iPhone and iPod Touch still seem to struggle with.
Presentation and graphics
Low poly models and some clunky character animation hinder an otherwise good-looking game. It successfully creates a spooky, claustrophobic feel through solid texture work and, more importantly, splashings of blood. The menu system works well, as does the touch-based inventory, and in-game map overlay.
Atmospheric sound effects work great to add the scare factor… unfortunately, it’s let down by some annoyingly loud footstep effects and no voice work in the cutscenes.
A slower paced action game than your typical 3rd person shooter. But the controls and inventory offer a solid play experience in a similar fashion to Silent Hill or Resident Evil. Balancing your health and insanity levels adds something to think about other than blasting your way to safety. The puzzle-based door unlocking mini-games, which add a refreshing change of pace to the game are a nice touch. The save system lets the gameplay down a touch… Should a call come in for iPhone users, or you need to shut down momentarily, you’ll lose your position and have to start that level again. There are checkpoint saves, but these only work if you lose a life and the system is still running.
Five missions may sound short, but infect each mission contains 2 levels, which can take 20-30 minutes to complete. Once the game is over though there is little to no reason to return to it, so this is very much a one play game. You can purchase an add-on pack for $0.99 (purchased in the game) which offers you extras such as new weapons (including a chainsaw), superpower, added Pandorum effects, a new suit, and the pointless Big Heads options. But these are more to help you cheat on your first playthrough than add to the experience second time around.
I was pleasantly surprised by my experience of Pandorum. Licensed games based on films tend to be shallow affairs, but Pandorum does enough right to offer a fun, and often scary, time in deep space. The relatively low $3.99 price sweetens the deal.
Version tested 1.0.0 – on an iPhone 3GS