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Review of Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive by Antrax

Stars - 40

Rating by Antrax posted on Apr 18, 2013 | edit | delete

Impossible to rate in stars

The Pandora Directive is a great game. I had a ton of fun playing it. It’s full of action and puzzles and plot and characters. But it’s also full of flaws, which make it difficult to justify a high score.

Before diving into the details, I chose to play in the “Game Player” setting, the more difficult of the two. It’s possible some of the sequences I found frustrating are bypassed in the easier setting.

Starting with the good: The game is much longer than its predecessor, UaKM. While still some days are slightly shorter than others, most game days took me several hours to complete - there was a lot to do, see and find.
The puzzles are more varied. There is still a lot of focus on PI work - asking the right person the right question, collecting evidence, breaking into locations and even some mild sneaking around. However, the game includes less pixel hunting (most items are at eye level and don’t require positioning the character in awkward places) and in their place we get some stand-alone puzzles beyond recreating destroyed pieces of evidence. I found most of these puzzles quite good - some were even very challenging, which is rare in games these days. A few were “unfair” in requiring trial-and-error (though there is no penalty for failure, even if you discount the obvious save-before-you-start technique), but that’s probably my fault for playing in the higher setting - the game recommends it to people who already completed the game. Most puzzles are properly clued but many include an extra twist - the first puzzle box is such an example, where you could brute force it, but figuring it out resulted in that “aha” moment which signifies a puzzle well designed.
The plot is quite engrossing. Like many mysteries, it makes no sense in hindsight, but the road there is a lot of fun. It takes much longer to get down to the heart of the matter, and until then, the game spends about seven days teasing you with various glimpses into what’s going on.
Finally, the multiple paths in the game seem like more than just a gimmick. I’ve only played it once so far, and I won’t replay soon (it took around 25 hours!), but I’ve read online and things can get quite different if you make other choices - and choices are not always obvious.

However, the game has some sections that are downright atrocious. There’s a section where you’re being chased by something. Tex apparently has a sixth sense, because the player is told about this in cutscenes that happen in places Tex can’t see, yet Tex knows to comment about the urgency of the situation. Moreover, in this section you’re in a huge area, and you somehow have to figure out on the go just where to go and what to do to stop the chase, and then you can properly explore. This is poor design. The game should somehow limit you to only those rooms or areas that are important to your immediate survival - otherwise it’s just one big crap shoot where you’ll either figure it out immediately by accidentally going to the right rooms, or repeatedly play a boring 10 minute section over and over again, frantically trying to figure out which rooms are important for defeating your attacker.
This is not the only timed sequence, but it’s clearly the worst one of a bad lot.
Another very poor section is an action sequence which actually emphasizes the poor control scheme. You have to rapidly dodge flying objects while traversing a maze. If you step off the ledges, you die instantly. This might have made sense if you could strafe or otherwise control your character decently, but it meshes very poorly with the control the game does offer.
There are other weird design choices. You can get a map to the maze, but then you find out there are objects randomly strewn about in the dead ends, so you end up having to traverse the entire maze anyway. There’s a long section that takes pixel hunting, already annoying, and makes it even more difficult and unfun by distorting your view AND making it difficult to pick items even if you see them. For some reason the game re-introduces the “limited cash” style. I’m pretty sure there are dead ends aplenty.

So, with all the issues above, it’s difficult to justify a high rating, but it certainly feels like a game that deserves to be highly rated. What can I say, despite all those frustrations, I would still recommend the game to others. I would also recommend a walkthrough for some sections, but the overall experience was definitely positive.

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Time Played: Over 20 hours
Difficulty: Very Hard

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