The Pandora Directive
|Article Posted:||August 2006|
|Review by Ugur Sener
The year is 2043. It is the San Francisco of the near future, a city that still bears the burdens of the third World War. As speeders fly over the buildings and the city lights glimmer, it seems like just another ordinary night. But that is hardly the case for the young woman lying dead on her bed. The vicious killer rummages through her bedroom. Dressed completely in black and wearing a mask to cover his face, the killer is desperately trying to find something. It must be something extremely important. So important that a college student had to lose her life over it.
A few nights later, on a different side of the town, Private investigator Tex Murphy is at his favorite diner, the Brew & Stew. As the detective talks to his friend Chelsee, a gentleman walks into the restaurant. It is not long before the stranger sends a drink to Tex’s table. It turns out Gordon Fitzpatrick might be in need of the detective’s services.
It sounds like a fairly simple investigation. Fitzpatrick is trying to locate an old friend called Dr. Thomas Malloy. Seeing his former colleague’s picture on the newspaper has inspired Gordon to find the scientist. Through some research, Fitzpatrick has already discovered that Malloy was most recently working at San Francisco Technical University. Unfortunately, even with the picture, Gordon has been unable to obtain any useful information from faculty members or other students. That is until he received a curious phone call from a student named Sandra who apparently knew Malloy under a different name.
Fitzpatrick attempts to meet Sandra to obtain additional information. Unfortunately, the young woman never shows up for the meeting. Gordon has a single lead left to find his friend. Malloy’s last official address is at the Ritz Hotel, the very same building where Tex has his office. Yet Gordon is worried. He fears for Sandra and Malloy’s lives. A dark mystery surrounds Malloy’s disappearance. It will be up to Tex Murphy to get to the bottom of it.
The fourth game in the Tex Murphy series, The Pandora Directive from Access Software tells a remarkably engaging story. Without a doubt among the strongest elements of the game, the story has humble beginnings, but with interesting characters and a number of plot twists, it elevates into a memorable experience. Even at the outset of the adventure, something about Fitzpatrick’s words immediately draws you in and raises your curiosity. Why exactly is Gordon looking for a friend he has not seen in twenty years? Is this simply the eccentricity of an old man or does the gentleman have ulterior motives? Why is Malloy so hard to locate in the first place? Why was he working at the university under a different name?
As you get into the game and start discovering some clues, the plot gradually thickens. The Pandora Directive does an excellent job of giving players a solid setting and some direction from the very beginning. Once you start getting into the mystery however, you will quickly realize there is much more to the game than a simple missing person mystery. Different characters gradually become involved, each with their own private agendas and motives. The investigation takes many twists and turns before you reach the end of the game. The Pandora Directive is about government conspiracies, the abuse of authority, and about unlocking secrets buried in time. Yet there is also a personal side to the story. Critical to the progress of the game, the interaction with other characters not only provides opportunities for discovering a number of details, but also reveals the human side of Tex Murphy. The Pandora Directive offers a very solid storyline that should appeal to science-fiction and detective mystery fans alike.
Just like the previous chapter in the series, The Pandora Directive is brought to life by real actors in full-motion video. The game has quite a large cast of rather colorful characters. A number of Tex’s friends and neighbors from Under a Killing Moon are back to assist the detective or give him a hard time and in general make his life more difficult. While it is not necessary to have played any other Tex Murphy game to follow the storyline in The Pandora Directive, familiarity with some of the characters will most likely make the experience more pleasant. But there is a whole host of new characters Tex meets as part of his investigation. There is Crazy Gary constantly preaching about his vegetarian religion to his imaginary followers. The new club that has opened just down the street from Tex’s office brings us the attractive singer Emily and her overprotective boss Gus Leach. As you get deeper into the investigation and start uncovering the underlying mystery, additional characters get involved with their own unique agendas and motives. The diversity of characters goes a long way towards keeping players interested.
The quality of acting in The Pandora Directive is noticeably better than Under a Killing Moon. The actors playing the returning characters seem to be more comfortable in their roles. The actors portraying the new characters seem to be in tune with their roles. While you will not see a shining example of drama in The Pandora Directive, the acting is for the most part fairly convincing and manages to immerse players into the game. Especially as the adventure proceeds and as you get to know the characters a little better, you might find yourself fully absorbed into the game’s highly interesting and imaginative world.
The Pandora Directive is played from a first-person perspective. The game features two separate modes for moving Tex and interacting with objects in the environment. In the movement mode, pushing the mouse forward makes Tex walk in the direction he is facing. The speed at which you move the mouse forward determines how fast Tex will walk. To turn around, players have to move the mouse to the right or to the left. It is also possible to make Tex look up and down using the arrow keys, which is essential for spotting some inventory items. Finally, players can make Tex crouch or tiptoe.
A tap on the space key activates the interactive mode. While this mode is selected, players can click on objects to examine them. Inventory items can be picked up, certain devices can be turned on or off, and some objects can be moved with simple mouse clicks. While having to switch between the movement and interactive modes might sound like a hassle, it should still be fairly easy to get used to the game’s interface. Much of the interaction with the environment occurs through the mouse and players do not have to worry about learning an overly complex keyboard layout. After a few minutes of playing the game, many players will probably be already used to switching between the two modes.
The inventory appears as a paginated list of items on the top right section of the screen. In order to use an item, players have to click on the use button on the game’s interface and select an object from the list. The examine button brings up a close-up view of the selected item. Tex will often provide a detailed description of the item when you examine it. He might even manipulate the item in some way that will allow you to use it. You will also be able to read the contents of documents you might find. Some of the items will contain puzzles. Once gain, the examine button allows you to take a closer look at the object so you can attempt to solve the puzzle. Finally, clicking on the combine button brings up thumbnail pictures of the items in your inventory. Through this view, you can use items on one another to create new items.
You will be exploring various interesting locations as part of your investigation. The Pandora Directive features a number of venues around Tex’s neighborhood that players will remember from Under a Killing Moon. However, things have changed in Chandler Ave. since Tex’s previous adventure. While a couple of old locations are closed down, many new areas have been added. The flashy nightclub Fuchsia Flamingo is the most notable addition. There are also alleyways and sewer tunnels that were not accessible in Under a Killing Moon. But there is far more to see in The Pandora Directive than Chandler Ave. Tex’s adventure will take him into several different buildings spread around San Francisco. The most interesting locations however, are outside the city limits. Tex will have to travel quite far from his office before he can get to the bottom of the mystery. The Pandora Directive offers players a considerable number of environments to explore packed with important clues as well as small details that make the investigation very colorful.
The map feature has been improved from Under a Killing Moon to make it easier to travel between available locations. The places you can visit are grouped into three main categories. There are a number of locations around Tex’s office that are listed as part of the Chandler Ave. category. Places in the greater San Francisco area are listed as a separate category. Finally, locations outside the city can be viewed through a map of North America. Once you click on the travel button, you can select your destination from a map of Chandler Ave., San Francisco, or North America. If the location includes several rooms, you will be occasionally able to select the specific room you wish to visit. This saves a great deal of time as you hop back and forth between places.
The developers have also tried to alleviate the burden of switching discs. Since the game ships on a mighty six CD’s, you will have to do a fair amount of disc swapping before you finish The Pandora Directive. However, the developers have tried to group parts of the game on individual discs to minimize swapping. For instance, a number of times during the adventure, you will have to call other characters on Tex’s video phone. Chances are, when you call one of these characters to ask about a topic, you will also want to call the others to ask the same question in hopes of getting additional details. As such, it helps that all phone conversations are recorded on the same disc. In addition, the locations that are on the same disc as the one currently in your CD-ROM drive are marked with a red cross on your travel map. So if you need to interrogate a number of people or revisit certain locations, you can start with the ones on the current disc to minimize the amount of time lost by switching CD’s.
Interaction with other characters occurs in several different ways. Players will get many opportunities to ask questions directly to other characters. When you choose to interrogate a character by clicking on the “Ask about…” button, a list of topics will appear on the top right portion of the screen. Clicking on the listed topics, you can hear what the other character knows about them. If the person you are interrogating has valuable information to offer, additional topics may become available on the list. You may even receive inventory items as a result of your diligent questioning. It is also possible to ask characters questions about the items in your inventory using the “Offer from inventory method.”
On many occasions, players will be given a series of answer options in response to a question or comment from another character. The responses you choose typically determine what kind of approach Tex will use in order to get information out of the other character. You will dictate how pleasant Tex will be throughout the conversation. In Under a Killing Moon and Overseer, the ability to choose Tex’s responses only has an impact on the current conversation. In The Pandora Directive however, your choices are far more important.
Depending on how you treat other characters, it is possible to put Tex on one of three different paths during the adventure. If you are kind and thoughtful towards other characters, Tex will end up on the Mission Street path. Successfully getting on this path includes settling your debts with other characters and treating Tex’s love interest Chelsee properly. You also need to make sure your responses are in general polite and respectful. If you choose the most insulting and disrespectful responses, you end up on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams path. You have to play Tex as a selfish and rude character. Knowing the detective from the other games in the series, the Boulevard path does seem awkward for Murphy. After all, his deeds in Under a Killing Moon alone demonstrates that he is thoughtful and concerned about doing the right thing. However, it still stands to reason that the detective could be disillusioned and extremely bitter after years of struggling through life and being broke. And since the decision is up to the players, you can always stay away from the Boulevard path if you feel it is not appropriate for Tex. The third and final path is Lombard Street. Somewhere in between the Mission Street and Boulevard paths, here you play Tex as more of a neutral character. For instance, you may get a few things right with some of your friends, but treat some other characters poorly.
The path selected by your decisions determines the ending of the game. If you treat the other characters well and always try to take the high road, you will end up with a more positive ending. If you play Tex as a total jerk however, you will get a much darker ending. It is great that the multiple endings are not dependent on some arbitrary choice you make at the end of the game. You have to plan your progress through the adventure and choose your answers carefully in you want to get to each of the different endings. In addition to your how you structure your responses in regular conversations, you will also be faced with a handful of critical decisions throughout the adventure. How you choose to act may play a huge factor in the ending you get to see. The three different paths leading to multiple endings gives Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive a great deal of replay value.
However, it is worth noting that the path leading to all the different endings is not entirely clear. For instance, my first time through The Pandora Directive, I was convinced that Tex had to be on the Mission Street path. Much to my surprise, ended up with a Lombard Street ending. As it turned out, one of the critical conversations could go in two distinct but equally positive ways. However, the events triggered at the end of one path hurts Tex’s relationship with a key character. The second path leads to a much more pleasant cut scene, which makes a great deal of difference between the “best” ending of the game and a Lombard Street ending. As such, the path to each of the different endings is not always entirely clear. Players are encouraged to experiment with different options and see how the events unfold as a result of your actions. Even if you do not get an entirely different ending, you may find that a number of critical events can unfold in several different ways, giving you an incentive to try out all the options.
On occasion, it is also difficult to figure out what Tex is actually going to say when you choose a dialog option. During conversations, the choices presented do not show the exact wording Tex will use. As such, you might choose what seems to be a polite response only to hear harsh words coming out of Tex’s mouth. For the most part, the dialog options give you enough of a hint on how Tex will word his response. As you progress through the adventure, you will also begin gaining insight into the conversation patterns, which should make it easier to make your decisions. However, it would have still been nicer to see the exact wording of Tex’s response to avoid surprises. Thankfully, the game does have a feature that greatly alleviates the problem. You can save the game during conversations. As such, if you are unsure as to how events will unfold as a result of your choices, you can save the game and try the conversation again until you are satisfied with the results.
The Pandora Directive has a solid number of entertaining puzzles. As expected, some of the challenges are inventory-based. Tex will have to combine items or use them on other objects in the environment to uncover important clues or gain access to other areas. The game is usually fair in the placement of inventory items. If you carefully examine each location and remember to look inside each drawer, you should not have too much trouble.
There are also a good number of other types of puzzles. You will have to figure out how to get past an electronic lock, break into a safe after decoding the number combination, and determine how to gain access to a couple of computer files. Many of the other puzzles feature a Mayan theme, which is in conjunction with the main storyline. If you haven’t already become familiar with it by now, you’ll get a chance to learn about the Mayan numbering system and familiarize yourself with their highly sophisticated calendar. There is one slider puzzle, but it has been specifically designed to be fairly easy to solve. Many of the pieces are identical and can be used interchangeably, making it fairly simple to manipulate the puzzle. One of the puzzles towards the end of the game is sound-based and involves matching tones. However, even if you are completely tone-deaf, it is still possible to overcome the challenge with a simple trial and error approach. There are also several jigsaw-like puzzles. While the developers have gotten quite creative with some of these puzzles, the game might have been better off if some of them had been replaced with altogether different types of challenges.
There is one maze that players have to navigate towards the end of the game. But the developers have obviously thought of players who do not like to go through labyrinths. First of all, the structure is not overly big and it should not be extremely challenging to learn how to navigate it. This is especially a good thing because you have to find items throughout the maze and not just reach the exit on the other side. It is also possible to obtain a complete map of the maze before you get too far into it, which makes the navigation much simpler. But more importantly, some of the most entertaining puzzles of the game are available in rooms spread throughout the maze. This provides a nice break from the task of finding your path. It also helps divide the maze into smaller sections, making it easier to traverse. Overall, there may be a couple of puzzles in The Pandora Directive that may not appeal to the tastes of individual players. However, the game is quite lengthy and it does feature a considerable number of unique puzzles. As such, most adventure gamers can expect to find a solid dose of entertaining puzzles throughout the course of the investigation.
There are several ways in which Tex can die during the adventure. A few sequences are timed and it is possible to make some fatal mistakes. It would have been very nice if the game allowed players to try the sequence again right after Tex meets his untimely demise. However, players are required to start from a saved game with the exception of the very last puzzle in the game. Fortunately, these situations are relatively few in number and it is usually fairly easy to figure out the correct thing to do. More importantly, it is always very clear that Tex is about to get into a dangerous situation. As such, players will have a chance to save their games in the event that they do make a mistake.
It is possible to play The Pandora Directive in two different modes. At the beginning of a new game, players are asked to choose between the Game player mode and the Entertainment mode. The Entertainment mode is intended to appeal to beginners who are going through the game for the first time. Fewer number of points are available throughout the adventure, but you are given access to the game’s excellent hint system. In addition, some of the puzzles are removed to make the game a little easier to complete. However, all key components of the storyline are still present and you will not miss out on the good stuff.
The Game player mode on the other hand is intended for more determined players who are looking for a greater challenge and who are prepared to solve the entire case on their own. While many of the same puzzles are present in both the Gamer and Entertainment modes, the Game player mode features some extra content. There are a few small additional places to explore and some extra puzzles to overcome. In addition, when you attempt many of the puzzles in the Game player mode, you can potentially earn bonus points. Some puzzles feature a time limit. If you manage to solve them in the allotted time, you earn quite a number of extra points. Other puzzles challenge you to complete them in a specific number of moves to gain some additional points.
The point system in The Pandora Directive is not only used to give you a score at the end of the game. Tex will start the adventure with an advance check from his client Gordon Fitzpatrick. Players can use this money to pay off Tex’s debts and purchase some items Tex will need throughout his adventure. The initial sum of money is not quite enough to cover all of your expenses and debts. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to get your hands on some extra cash. If you are really running short on cash however, the point system is your last resort. It is possible to convert your points into dollars. While this is without a doubt unrealistic, it does offer you an easy way out and keeps allows you to proceed with the adventure if you do not want to waste time looking for money.
The Pandora Directive features a great hint system that might help you out on several occasions. The hint system is only accessible during the Entertainment mode. However, if you started the game on Game player mode, it is possible to switch to the entertainment mode to gain access to the hint system. Once you switch to the Entertainment mode however, you are stuck with it until the end of the adventure.
The hint system works by listing topics that correspond to Tex’s investigation. Depending on where you are at with the adventure, different categories will be available. For instance, if you are trying to gain access to a specific location, it will be listed as a topic. Once you select a category, you will get to see a list of actions you need to perform to complete the task. Any actions you have already completed will be visible. You will be able to spend some of the points you earned to see view the next available action on the list. As such, instead of giving you the complete answer, the hint system only shows you the next step. When you complete that step, you can try to proceed on your own. If you still do not know what to do however, you can click on the next available action to see how you should proceed. Thus, if you are hopelessly stuck, the hint system does give you a way to eventually obtain the solution and proceed with the investigation.
However, it is important to note that while the hint system will guide you through the investigation and help you overcome the inventory-based challenges, you are on your own when you are solving the puzzles. You will be offered a hint that should offer you some help with the puzzle, but you will not find detailed step-by-step solutions. Instead, the game tells you what a cheat that can be used to skip the puzzle, but resorting to these will reduce your score significantly. If you want to actually solve the puzzle, you have to do it alone or consult a walkthrough.
Overall Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive is an absolute triumph. The game has a very engaging storyline that pulls you in from the opening cinematics and maintains your interest throughout the adventure. The events escalate with a number of good plot twists to keep players guessing. A great mystery about government conspiracies, hidden secrets, and an ancient civilization is nicely spiced up with a touch of humor and romance. There are many likeable characters with their strange quirks and secrets to make the experience more colorful. Entertaining puzzles across a myriad of locations promise to keep you occupied for many hours. As if that wasn’t enough, the game also has multiple endings and your decisions play a huge part in the outcome. There are a couple of minor issues here and there, but they do not by any means significantly take away from the experience. The great storyline, excellent atmosphere, interesting characters, and diverse locations add up to make a truly amazing adventure. The Pandora Directive is without a doubt one of the very best adventure games I have ever played. If you are looking for adventure games with lots of character interaction and an emphasis on solid storylines, the Tex Murphy series is most certainly worth a look. But The Pandora Directive in particular is a very strong title that adventure gamers should not miss. It remains an extremely enjoyable ride years after its release and promises to keep you occupied for many hours.
The final grade is 96/100.
|PC System Requirements:|
|486/66 MHz CPU (Pentium® recommended)|
|Windows® 95 or DOS 6.0|
|8 MB RAM installed (16 MB recommended)|
|Sound board (supports all major boards)|
|2X CD-ROM (4X recommended)/td>|
|20 MB available hard disk space (30 MB recommended)|
|Keyboard, mouse, and speakers|