Wednesday, 03 May 2017 00:00

P.A.M.E.L.A. Early Access Review

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Naturally, you thrash

The trailer for P.A.M.E.L.A., a beautiful new title developed and published by NVYVE Studios, starts with “Many believed that true utopia could never be achieved… they were right.” This is an incredibly apt description of that into which you crash, once you start your journey with this Early Access game. P.A.M.E.L.A. launched on March 9, 2017, and has been highly anticipated by many individuals since it’s original announcement at a Unity conference in 2015.

You start in a deep cryogenic sleep, to be woken to a harsh reality, with an oxygen mask floating in front of you, and what can be assumed to be freshly unfrozen water all around you, and, before you, a countdown asking you to keep calm. Naturally, you thrash inside the pod.

Stunning vistas

Your enclosure opens, and you find yourself dazed, in a dark room, static and test bar images flashing on the screens in front of you and, like many survival games, you’re left to your own devices. From the beginning, it’s clear that NVYVE Studios put a ton of time into aesthetics. It seems most indie studios, especially for their first game, will throw off the shackles of really high-quality graphics in favor of a stronger story or unique gameplay elements. This could not be further from the truth regarding P.A.M.E.L.A. which is pushing for the triple crown of story, functionality, and incredible graphics. An article from as early as 2015 touted a headline of “This Is The Prettiest Survival Horror Game You Have Ever Seen,” and P.A.M.E.L.A. will probably give RE7 a run for its money.

It’s no surprise that the high-poly assets in the game would be gorgeous: the studio and publisher are a sister company of Ontario-based NVYVE, a company which specializes in using Unity to create incredibly high-resolution product and car visualizers, as well as architectural designs and model packs. The title had the tools and the talent for creating a beautiful release from the outset, and it truly shows.

Not only does NVYVE capture these textures and assets incredibly well, and I don’t just mean for an Early Access title, but they have nailed the atmosphere. You step from your pod and into a city which, when you went to sleep, boasted stunning vistas and utopian ideals; the ideals are no longer featured. You must acclimate first, and, not one step outside your room, do you see a nurse, frozen in place, bones sticking out of her face and various other parts of her body — unsettling. It’s not clear if she’s a statue of the previously living, or if she is about to rip the skin off your face in a jump scare. Spoiler: she doesn’t. Or does she? No, she doesn’t — I promise.

You’re unsure of what you need, and, to a point, unsure of what’s going on around you

You begin with very little, but at least in P.A.M.E.L.A., you start with an impressive piece of wearable tech — which almost always means that certain doom is around the corner. At least you didn’t start with a dong slider; you start with so little, you need to know how it looks (Conan). Everything from your vitals, inventory, and abilities can be tracked via your “AARM” system. This is a super cool way of offering your inventory and maps in a truly immersive way.

Along with your AARM, you also wield a useful multi-tool. This tool is something you’ll have out most of the game, as it’s used for building, placing and repairing objects as well as scanning containers. Not only can you scan containers, you must scan containers. I guess it’s better to scan a recycling bin than to dig through it, but it seems like you could try a container to see if it’s locked rather than scanning it to see if it’s locked. This is what you spend most of your time doing: scanning containers and taking what’s inside. If the container is locked, you’ll play a reaction based mini-game to hack it and get inside to claim your bounty. However, I have opened containers to find nothing, which seems like the point of scanning it in the first place. The crux of any survival game hinges on collecting materials that are required to survive, and this is no exception; without the promised narrative, this release might not be as appealing to people more familiar or comfortable with linear-story or high-action titles.

You’re unsure of what you need, and, to a point, unsure of what’s going on around you. I don’t know about you, but if there’s even a possibility of an apocalypse and I see a cash register, I’m going to loot it and take the cash — in this instance, Lux. Just in case I happen to come across a vending machine that’s still working… oh, lookie here, a vending machine that still works! I bypassed the machine the first time through and soon found myself starving to death. I found I was more likely to find energy cells (for weapons) than I was food. This would probably be great when I found weapons, but, like any good survival title, weapons are not always readily available. You shall likely spend the early part of your game punching fellow Eden citizens to death — at least, unconsciousness. I’m unsure about their states, and I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.

If you happen to die, P.A.M.E.L.A. just wakes another sleeping citizen to aid her

P.A.M.E.L.A. is open-world, and as such, there’s little in the way of guidance. Small kiosks on the wall play a short excerpt from P.A.M.E.L.A. herself. She’s an AI that helped create and run the city, and her stories are insights on the history of Eden. Right now, these stories are not interactive, but in the coming months — as we get closer to the final release — an interactive and nonlinear narrative is planned, and it seems P.A.M.E.L.A. shall be your only comfort, and friend, during the endeavor. If you happen to die, she just wakes another sleeping citizen to aid her. You start in a different cryochamber, likely in the same wing and everything you picked up previously will be gone, left with the previous citizen's corpse. The only caveat is that your corpse doesn’t stick around, which was a little disheartening when I rushed through beating braining maniacs in rapid succession until I got to the area I previously died. My anticipations were high, as I wanted to see what my previous character looked like as well as get the sweet kit I’d already picked up, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I guess when you starve to death in Eden, you and all your belongings disintegrate.

Currently, the combat is fine, with a stamina system (that allows you to fight and dodge) that works pretty well. The hit mechanics work pretty well: your heavy blows stun your enemies. Some of these enemies seem like normal enough folk, with their faces twisted in anger, others are starting a transformation, their bodies and legs lengthened, standing quite a bit taller than you and charging at you with unusual ferocity. The shrieks that come from them sound incredibly familiar and hearken back to other zombie-based games, such as Left 4 Dead and 7 Days to Die, helping immersion. However, there isn’t as much feedback when, and with what intensity, you are hit. In one encounter with a bit of a stronger creature, it didn’t seem like I had been hit much, if at all, but I suddenly perished nevertheless. This is a small issue for an already robust combat system, and there are yet many months in early access

There are many areas to explore, and Eden is a large city, and you decide where your journey will take you. Are you going to head over to the garrison and try to find some weapons? Are you going to stay in Ark Medical and fortify your position with shield pylons, turrets, and traps? The choice is up to you.


The Verdict

P.A.M.E.L.A. is one of the most visually solid games on Steam today, in the indie market — and possibly including AAA as well. You won’t be disappointed in the graphics, but you might need to optimize to truly get the most out of graphics and performance, as frame rates might drop frequently, and since the rig requirements to run on Ultra are quite high. There was a rash of bad reviews for crashing and loading issues, but the issues were fixed very quickly thereafter. Even with a small development team, NVYVE Studios has produced one of the most polished Early Access games I’ve seen, and it bodes well for the future of the title and the studio.

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Joel Hendershott

You merely adopted gaming. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn't see 64 bits until I was already a man". I've been gaming since the early days, playing everything from commodores and Atari to Current Gen. I'm a flip-flopper of the worst kind, constantly jumping back and forth between consoles and PC. I can play most any games, but RPG's, racing games are my jam. I also enjoy the simulator games far more than any one man should. One day I decided to not just play larger than life characters but attempt to be one myself and jumped into training for Strongman and powerlifting. Now the biggest struggle in my life is do I spend more time on Games or Gains?