36: The Pandora Directive

Publisher: Access Software
Developer: Access Software
Year: 1996
Platform: DOS, Windows, Macintosh

Review: The fourth installment in the lauded Tex Murphy series, The Pandora Directive takes a huge step forward in nearly every facet. While using the same engine and basic controls of Under A Killing Moon, most of the problems have been rectified to create a truly enjoyable experience. This time, Tex is once again broke and desperate for any case. He gets one when an old friend of scientist Thomas Malloy drops by the diner and asks Tex to locate him. What follows is an epic cat and mouse chase through California and South America, not only to find Dr. Malloy, but the secrets he carries.

While there remains several contrivances throughout the game, the plot is tighter and simply more interesting than that of the last game. There are fewer puzzles that involve goose-chases, which helps maintain interest. But the best addition to the plot is a dynamic scoring system that changes the story as you proceed. There are three main paths throughout the game depending on how you treat the people you cross. You can take the high road, treating your friends and enemies with dignity and respect, take the middle road by taking some shortcuts, or take the low road by being arrogant and despicable. The story can veer based on the choices you select when talking with people or actions you make when you have the opportunity to take advantage of someone. Each path has some puzzles and videos of its own, making replay an actual treat instead of a mindless chore. All in all, there are six possible endings, and a few of them can only be seen if Tex has taken a certain path.

Also improved significantly is the acting. Chris Jones remains adequate, if unmemorable, as the Bogart-like protagonist who narrates his own adventure. Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure) is over the top as a bad guy, but he’s still entertaining. Tanya Roberts (That 70’s Show), Razzie nominee recipient, is decent as a sexy adversary. And Kevin McCarthy (Death Of A Salesman) is excellent as Malloy’s friend. Heck, Suzanne Barnes even improves as Chelsea, Tex’s love interest. Nobody grates on the nerves which goes a long way to making the game enjoyable.

In fact, your enjoyment of the game will largely depend on your patience with the first-person maneuvering through pre-rendered scenes (and blue-screened actors). Like the last game, it can be clunky at first, but eventually becomes second nature. And there are plenty of shortcuts one can use to keep from walking the same streets over and over. The stealth missions are more frequent and more intense, making good use of the game’s engine. Frustratingly, many objects hide in very hard to see places as you kneel and turn your head to find them. At least Jones, recognizing that a game dependent on atmosphere shouldn’t slow down for long, included an on-line hint system to help you through the tough puzzles (at the cost of points). Furthermore, if you want to skip half the puzzles and just enjoy the plot, you can play without them.

If you liked Under A Killing Moon, you will undoubtedly love The Pandora Directive. You don’t need to have played the former first to understand what’s going on, but you may enjoy the plot even more if you do.

Contemporary RatingLow. Early 3-D rendering and clunky controls would irritate today’s gamers, not to mention the pixel-hunting.

Cruelty Rating:  Polite.  There are many ways to bite the bullet, but dangerous situations are apparent.  I found no way to get stuck.

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