Pandora First Contact Review – MOUSE n JOYPAD

Pandora First Contact Review



The term 4x strategy is an interesting one. The phrase was first created back in 1993 but the genre has been around since the seventies featured sporadically amongst board games. As well as its complex game play, games using 4x usually include others ways to win then military. Whilst these games are directed at niche audience the current market seems to have grown and popularity has risen. Titles like Civilization have dominated the market for over 20 years and many other have followed so for a relatively new company entering a, perhaps, saturated market it can be a hopeless endeavour.

Pandora First Contact is a 4x turn-based Sci Fi strategy simulator developed by Proxy Studios and published by Slitherine LTD. Proxy are a relatively new developer, only recently being founded back in 2009 and having one other title called Conquest: Divide and Conquer. This is very similar to Pandora, sharing a similar user interface and multiple game mechanics. Slytherine on the other hand have been active since the year 2000 boasting an extensive portfolio featuring a majority of relatively unknown war games covering several eras and famous battles. As Pandora has recently appeared on Steam, will it be enough to project both companies in a positive light?

The story starts in the year 2107. Humanity has finally made the big bold step to leave Earth in search of a new planet to colonize. After years of searching in sections of galaxy devoid of life, humans discover Pandora located in the Nashira System. After the rapid destruction of Earth due to toxic gases and the aftermath of war the collective hopes and dreams rest on the rapid colonization of Pandora and to establish a new life. As you become familiar with your surroundings you soon realize you aren’t alone.

The level of customization upon choosing the world you colonize is vast and impressive. Although choosing the random option can be fun, allowing an element of mystery to drive your exploration, it cannot make up for the level of detail it presents. As well as choosing your faction, world size and shape, difficulty, alien aggression and pace you can click advanced, allowing access to a further menu of options. This lets the players decide what type of game they wish to play, allowing options for the number of enemy, the option of teams and a free for all scenario and even allow other players to join your map. As well as this it offers world temperature, the time per turn, revealed research tiers and type of victory, which include economic, military, research or allied victory. Whilst these options customize the way the game is played, it doesn’t affect the landscape outside of world shape. There is no way of editing how many resources are available and in what location, which may be a problem for some people.

Humanity is broken up into six factions including Divine Ascension, a religious group, Imperium, a hostile military people, the Noxium Corporation, a business interested in trade, Solar Dynasty, which is a Dictatorship, Terra Salvum, the combination of several pressure groups and Togra University, the vast educational establishment. Each faction has different strengths and weaknesses as well as perks relevant to the group’s stance. For example, Togra are known for encouraging freedom, whether that be physical or otherwise so Morale will be high where as Solar Dynasty have strict laws their people must follow so morale will be sufficiently less. The way factions interact, however, is where it gets interesting.

Because of the faction’s have unique wants and needs they can be more aggressive in certain situations, which creates interaction with the AI. Anything will cause a situation with at least one faction and is fundamentally unavoidable. It is how you manipulate the others that will undoubtedly lead to your success and prosperity so learning about your enemy is vital. For example, if you create to much pollution Terra Salvum, the pressure group will inevitably try and get involved but you can buy protection from one of the bigger military forces as well trade with others. All of which is controlled through the dialogue panel.

The dialogue panel offers communication with other factions by giving you a series of phrases that can help or eventually hinder your situation. Many of them include a peaceful option or a controversial one; allowing the player the power to choose what path they wish to follow. Often you are approached first by a faction looking for protection money, which can result in an immediate war if declined and over the in-game years you both will build your forces ready for the inevitable skirmishes. Although this dialogue offers the player a series of options, in which it will set the current state of the game play, it is limited to only a few options with most of the A.I. providing you with a choice but dictates the situation.

The game play is well paced due to its turn-based nature, allowing construction time to appear realistic. Everything is managed in your city making it a hub for growth and development whilst also viewing statistics like economy and morale. Once your city is selected you can view current tasks and assign buildings to be built or units to be trained to the list. Due to the time it takes, it may be worth establishing your priorities as some units can take as long as 10 turns to train, allowing an enemy to capitalize. Once your troops are ready, they are able to venture into the world under your command.

The objective is to survive on the planet and to outlast your opponents, whether that is through success by research or money or by military means. The former is relatively self-explanatory but the latter in more in depth. You will often see the opposing faction’s patrolling an area or even stumble across their city. You cannot engage them, however, without first initializing war. This of course means giving the A.I. warning of your intentions so they can prepare. All this can be controlled within the dialogue menu. Although it would be interesting to surprise attack enemies, I feel this reflects a level of maturity in the title, allowing players to be fully in control of their situation.

Unit’s movement is limited to how fast they are able to move in a turn, so foot soldiers will move considerably slower then vehicles. This could have a devastating effect if you encounter trouble so exploring with faster units ill have their benefits.

Unit customization is an interesting factor to this game allowing you to equip troops or vehicles with new weapons you have researched previously. This could be anything from flamethrowers, to armour or even devices to help neutralize enemies. This encourages players to research specific skills to improve their force’s capabilities and effectiveness. As well as this, it allows players to mix and match dependant on the enemy they’re facing, allowing for a tactical approach to a situation.

Whilst other factions have a dangerous presence on the planet, you will always be looked upon by the natural life forms that live on the planet. Although primitive, they are dangerous and can overwhelm troops if they are unequipped to deal with them, showing the benefit of the crafting system. As your species grow attacks from these creatures become a regular occurrence so infiltrating their nest and destroying them will have its benefits. The creatures are interesting but there isn’t an extensive number, which unfortunately means encountering the same creatures often. As you already have learnt their weaknesses they become less of a challenge to kill leaving the experience feeling boring and overdone.

The research tree is one of the most important aspects in the game. It offers players a randomized options tree that allow for researching. All research is conducted through this window so it offers a mixture of military, economic and moral boosting skills. You have to pick wisely because of the turn time and acquiring one skill will only allow for certain skills to be unlocked so planning may also be needed. You can research anything from new units and field training to fortifications and planetary bombardment. The greater effect something has usually takes longer to research.

The graphics are not unique to the genre but are well suited to the title. Bright shining gems and dark unknown territory displays a great contrast of colour across the map whilst awarding players with a visually appealing world. The planet does feel alien but its nice to include earthly traits like the oceans and greenery displaying a terrain, which isn’t to dissimilar to our home world.

The sound design is good. In the occasional place the music drowns out some voice acting but it achieves a comfortable feel. The music isn’t varied but it does offer some background noise and benefits the title. Silence wouldn’t have quite had the same appeal. Gunfire and alien sounds are professional but lacking in diversity. It would be nice to hear several different noises dependant on location. Attempting to destroy a nest should be louder then encountering the same enemy in the open.

Pandora First Contact introduces us to a new planet and era for mankind. It’s world is vast and a lot of fun. Although the title does a lot right, it would benefit from slight improvements. Predominantly, the game is to linear offering players only slight variations of how they wish to play. Researching different skills should encourage different strategies and in turn, reflect upon your relationships with other factions. Whilst the game is great, it could have benefited with extra development time so players could experience different ways of playing, making each play through unique. Overall, the game is immersive and extremely addictive.