A little over a year ago, I went hands-on with an early version of NVYVE Studios’ P.A.M.E.L.A., a sci-fi survival horror with influences that include Bioshock, System Shock and even shades of Dead Space thrown in for good measure. As I noted then, this Early Access Indie game had some slick visuals and an ambitious open-world environment, but crushing load times, lack of tutorial and poor explanation of its gameplay mechanics ultimately soured the experience. Now, one year on, P.A.M.E.L.A. is being given the first of a series of big updates, and I jumped back in to check on its progress.
One thing I noticed right away is that load times are much improved from my first Preview. You can now emerge from your cryogenic water-tank spawn point and get playing right away, as opposed to the 10 full minutes I endured before. And there’s now a hologram that appears on your arm-interface, telling you what to do to start, which is also a much-needed addition, since you got absolutely zilch in the way of instruction before.
I’d still like to see more depth to the narrative side, though. Besides the initial send-off, you just don’t get much telling you who you are, why you’re here or what the destination is. I get that this is a sandbox-style survival game, but there still needs to be more in the way of NPC dialogue or cut-scenes to flesh the game out. As it is, we’re still limited to recorded clips at terminals, in which P.A.M.E.L.A., the AI overseer of the facility, gives story tidbits.
P.A.M.E.L.A. offers a deep crafting system, as is evidenced by the countless odds and ends you’ll find by searching boxes and garbage cans as you move around its world; but there’s still not nearly enough explanation of how to make things, or what items I can even make. If there is a place that explains it, I have yet to find it, even after all this time. P.A.M.E.L.A.’s biggest barrier to enjoyment for me has been, and continues to be, its unwillingness to explain the basics of its mechanics with its players.
It’s the same with combat. If there are cool weapons available in this beautiful, futuristic world, I haven’t seen one yet. Granted, I haven’t put 60-plus hours in, but so far all of my combat experience has been limited to desperate punching matches with scary Afflicted humanoids or killer Seeker robots. I just keep punching away, with no health meter for either of us so I have no clue as to who’s winning until one of us goes down. Come on NVYVE, at least let me use sticks or broken objects as weapons until I can figure out how to get a gun.
Your early time in P.A.M.E.L.A.’s Eden is dark, and often pitch-black, which can be a turn-off for a beginner. You’ll eventually discover that the ‘F’ button brings up a flashlight, which helps until you emerge from Ark Medical and into the brighter areas of the rest of Eden. It’s a shame that so much of P.A.M.E.L.A.’s gorgeous Unity 5-generated visuals, with their lovely sci-fi details, are veiled under a shroud of darkness so much of the time.
There’s clearly been some improvement to P.A.M.E.L.A. in the year or so since my initial preview. Load times are much better, and AI movement, detection and behaviour look smoother and more realistic than before. I don’t see the clipping and pathfinding issues with Afflicted and Seeker AI that I saw a year ago. But on the story and gameplay side, there’s obviously still a ways to go. P.A.M.E.L.A. still offers almost nothing in the way of instruction on crafting, using weapons and generally knowing what the hell to do. I know that NVYVE is committed to making this indie title better all the time, and they have plans for more big updates including a full story upgrade later this summer. I know that P.A.M.E.L.A. will eventually be a great sci-fi survival title – stay tuned.
*** PC key provided by the publisher ***