Panopticon iPad Hands-On Preview

The Panopticon, in the historical sense, is the basis for all our modern prisons. A wide ring with the prison guards in the middle, the Panopticon design gives prisoners a feeling of being watched and under total control. So it makes sense that if you design an all-powerful world computer and call it the Panopticon, it’s going to become self-aware and enslave humanity.

The upcoming iPad game Panopticon, from Australian game developers Quokka Studios, is a touch-based puzzle game with a unique story. To disable the insane, world-dominating computer The Panopticon, you have to manually slide colored discs into their respective slots.

The key word is “manually”. Panopticon plays, to us, like a combination of the realistically tactile Hand of Greed and the classic party game Twister. Your fingers have to stay on the screen at all times to move the discs, but they’ll get tangled and twisted up as you try to avoid the onscreen traps.

You have to keep a finger on each disc to move any of them, and lifting one of your fingers up will send that disc flying back to its original position. It’s simple enough at the start, but eventually you’ll have to manipulate doors and cautiously move the discs around spikes to arrive at their designated landing. When you get all the discs in place, there’s a hiss of escaping steam, and then you’re on to the next level.

While we think this is a very original idea for an iPad game, we found ourselves getting frustrated with some of the trickier stages. It seemed to us that even if you were double-jointed and had six fingers on each hand, guiding these discs to their targets would still be a chore. It didn’t help that in a few instances, it seemed like we’d lose our grip on the discs through no fault of our own, causing a restart of the stage.

Panopticon has a lot going for it– a clever idea, a dark story, and a great soundtrack by steampunk band Vernian Process. But in this preview build, Panopticon doesn’t quite strike that careful balance between frustrating and fun. We’d prefer if Panopticon was more about letting off steam instead of building it up. You can judge for yourself when the game hits the App Store in February.

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