Pandorum, released in theaters today, may or may not be an entertaining box office hit, but its iPhone tie-in game was released a week early to (in theory) whet our appetite. Looking at a few screenshots for this sci-fi/horror/shooter game, you might be deceived into thinking Pandorum could be a worthy addition to your gaming arsenal. Think again.
The in-game story is somewhat light on details, so as to not spoil the movie, but rest assured that what you’re getting in the game is little more than a poorly narrated mashup of the more interesting elements of Dead Space (the game) and Event Horizon (the film). With fairly high frequency, the game will take away the reins and force you to endure some of the worst writing in cutscenes we’ve ever seen, dialog so poorly written and unintentionally humorous that it sucks out the game’s life quicker than a vampire speed-freak.
Pandorum may be a looker in some departments, but the appeal is only skin deep. Many of the textures are muddled, the character models are much more rigid than in polished games like Dexter, and the faces fail as representations of their Hollywood counterparts. Animation, too, is stiff and robotic, making the characters move more like automatons than real flesh and blood. Furthermore, most of the environment is shrouded in darkness, which feels more like a means to keep the frame rate up than to incite genuine frights.
The sound design fares better, and arguably this is more important for a horror game. The music appropriately alternates between somber and snappy, knowing when to pick up the pace during a fight. Environmental noises and enemy roars, however, sound unbalanced and overly metallic or compressed. And while the first time a monster jumps out of a closet might give you the willies, you’ll be numb to their unchanging tactics in short order.
Further compounding the game’s laundry list of problems is a substandard control scheme. You move with a left virtual thumbstick and look about with one on the right. It’s functional, yes, but lacks the precision needed for fluid movement, especially when you must be quick on your feet in a firefight.
Who let the kids out of their room?
You also lack the ability to look up and down, which can make manual targeting unnecessarily difficult (though you can just tap on the enemy to target). Changing weapons is easy enough, though, and there are enough options (melee and ranged) to keep the combat varied, but this is assuming the rest of the game has managed to actually hold your interest. The lack of an autosave feature also annoyed us to no end.
A few other innovations are thrown in, such as the Pandorum meter. Encounter enough enemies and you’ll start to develop Pandorum, a “psychological disorder developed in deep space which causes hallucinations and insanity,” reducible by popping meds, but all this feature really amounts to is annoying flashes on the screen that further hamper the gameplay and fun.
As far as movie tie-ins go, Pandorum is not very good. It seeks to be little more than a flashy-looking advertisement that costs you $3.99 to play. This type of game has been and will be done better on the iPhone, so save up for a movie ticket if Pandorum remotely intrigues you.