Having roamed space for almost 200 years, the generation ship Pandora has gone haywire. With the destabilisation of its Bio-Rhythmic Stabilisers, the computer is exhibiting pseudo-aggressive tendencies. As an Intergalactic Salvage Operator, the player's mission is to board and investigate the ship.
The screen is divided into a four-way scrolling playing area and a character status display panel: this is sub-divided into windows which reveal the player's condition and inventory, changing according to the situation. For example, when standing over a dead opponent, the Dead Char window displays the dead character's inventory. The Status window reveals current health from Mighty to Dire; should the player's energy expire, the game ends.
Interacting with other characters and collecting objects forms a major part of the game: a message appears in the display window detailing which articles another character requires: successful trades reveal otherwise unattainable items. Objects are also collected from plinths; moving against an empty plinth whilst holding an object designed to fit on the plinth places that object onto it. To the left of the start position is a cargo chute: pressing the Fire button next to it deposits the currently carried item into the shuttle.
Fighting also plays a role: characters are defeated to release extra items. The salvage operator collects a variety of weapons - including an Iridium mace and a shockwhip - but is otherwise armed only with his fists. Combat involves pressing the Fire button when a gauge on the display panel reaches its peak. Different weapons have appropriate strike rates and effects upon the opponent: for example, the mace has a slower strike rate but greater efficiency than fists.
If the salvage operator is defeated in a fight, loses his ID card at any time, or enters a restricted area without the necessary authority, he is annihilated by the ship's defence systems, and the game ends.
Firebird's latest release is basically a Gauntlet clone dressed up as a space thriller in the Paradroid mould. Other aspects are equally unoriginal: the sprites are reminiscent of Sensible Software creations and the title tune is drawn directly from Dune!
Behind this familiarity lies a fairly decent game: the individual sequences such as fighting, discovering ID to access restricted areas and collecting and trading with objects proves appealing for a short while.
However, the uninspired nature of the action catches up with the gameplay: trading, blasting and arcade adventuring has been done so much better before, and the whole program is let down by the limitations of four-way movement.
If you're really keen on this kind of (derivative) action, it's worth a look because the gameplay is varied enough to be attractive. However, the lack of originality means it would have been a brilliant addition to the Silverbird range.
The idea behind Pandora is a pretty good one, with room for plenty of exploring and interaction between characters and objects. Unfortunately, this is limited to finding out what each character has and what he wants (via totally unsubtle clues), then either looking for a corpse carrying the item, or acquiring it from another character, who only barters away his item, so you have to find what *that* character wants.
And on it goes... My games were plagued by confusing instances. On being asked for identification, I placed one of my three acquired ID cards in the Holding window, and it was ignored by the guard, who proceeded to beat me up with his electrotruncheon.
The instructions offer little enlightenment on the subject and I'm still at a loss as to what I was doing wrong.
The rest of the game is well presented, but running about on unlikely errands seems even more pointless than usual, and excitement eventually palls.
Interesting scenario, competent screen display and unusual opening sequence marred by poor character control and confusing instructions.
Polished and colourful four-way scrolling backdrops peopled by derivative and unimaginative sprites.
Reasonable remix of the Dune theme and decent heartbeat effects.
The urge to solve puzzles and access restricted areas proves compelling, but the limitations of four-way movement spoil the action.
The action quickly becomes tedious because of the derivative and repetitive action.
An interesting adaptation of the Gauntlet/Paradroid theme marred by restricted movement and convoluted gameplay.