The survival genre, though not as popular as it used to be, keeps satisfying its audience with quality titles such as the undying Minecraft, the equally enduring Terraria, and the quirky Don't Starve (as well as its Together counterpart). Despite how successful survival is, there's no denying that over the years it became stale due to a number of new releases doing little to move the core mechanics forward or, in some cases, as little as possible to meet essential genre-defining checkboxes. Available on Steam in early access since March 2017, the ambitious P.A.M.E.L.A. seeks to remedy some of the genre's traps with an established world—as opposed to a procedurally generated one—and a relevant background story, all wrapped up in a fancy-looking sci-fi setting.
Purchasing early access games tends to be a risk. From bugs to optimization issues and even project cancellations before a full release, Steam's program offers the sort of possible feedback smaller studios wouldn't have otherwise while also putting players' investment on the line. Whilst promising, P.A.M.E.L.A. presents a few concerns at its current state—some of which seem to be part of the development roadmap—that potential buyers should be cautious about.
In another time — Unlike many survival games, P.A.M.E.L.A. takes place in a sci-fi setting, more specifically the fictional city of Eden. Located in the middle of the ocean, the city was supposed to be a thriving utopia that, due to some biochemical incident, is overrun by a number of hostiles prone to violence. The player, a so-called "sleeper," is awoken from cryo-sleep by the titular AI, who was responsible with overseeing the city's infrastructure. Being the last sane citizen, the player is free to explore the moderately-sized map and all of its facilities, all the while avoiding the hostiles who were once peaceful citizens as well as collecting records of P.A.M.E.LA.'s data scattered across the environment.
Around the corner and back again — For a city, Eden feels rather small. Perhaps if its inhabitants were a selected few, its compact size would make sense. It's understandable that an indie open world game—especially a first-person survival—would have a world that feels smaller than usual; but in any case, there's no denying that developer NVYVE Studios put a lot of thought into the environment. Eden's structure makes sense, with facilities offering the possibility for some degree of vertical exploration and decorations and clutter providing just enough information for players to understand what happened before their awakening. Environmental textures and lighting are well-realized, making this a world worth exploring for its visuals and layout.
Take my hand, don't take my hand — If there's one thing the most vocal of gamers love these days, it's games that don't hold their hands. Punishing mechanics tend to make for well-received titles that tend to please the "git gud" crowd. While fundamentally difficult, at present P.A.M.E.L.A. does what it can to alleviate its steep learning curve. Upon starting a new game, players are presented with a "game mode" screen, which lists a handful of parameters supposed to make the game easier or harder. On top of that, a number of tutorials are available to get the sleeper started on their journey, most of which worry about setting up basic mechanics rather than fully walking the player through each of their aspects. Unlike other games (I'm looking at both of you, Final Fantasy XV and The Witcher III), P.A.M.E.L.A. doesn't treat the player like an illiterate slacker who can't figure things out on their own. Though a little intrusive at times, tutorial messages are short and accompanying them are videos demonstrating the mechanics. The rest is up to the player to figure out.
What's the meaning of life? — While P.A.M.E.L.A. puts players in an interesting setting, it doesn't come with a story to complement it. As stated, the player character is awoken by P.A.M.E.L.A., who briefly points out that something went terribly wrong in Eden. And then, nothing else happens. No objectives, no narrative, no actual progress. Terminals scattered around the city containing the AI's memories provide context to the outbreak but even that offers little purpose. The only thing players seem able to do is walk around the narrow streets and facilities, collect junk, build bases and survive, all on top of collecting P.A.M.E.L.A.'s memories. Thankfully, the developers plan to overhaul the story with patch 1.0, which is slated for this fall. Hopefully this overhaul manages to make use of the game's setting in a way that accentuates it rather than make it feel shallow.
Please stand by while I smack you in the head — Combat is perhaps P.A.M.E.L.A.'s most glaring issue. Though simple, the controls feel clunky whenever fisticuffs are necessary, especially with charged attacks and how they propel the character forward. In addition to that, enemies always look awkward when fighting. The way they charge their own attacks is almost comical: they start jumping on one foot, fist ready to fly across the air. It's like watching a 90s daytime cartoon, except deadlier.
Unfortunately, the mechanics don't make fighting any funnier, with hostiles easily taking the player character down in a few hits that can be difficult to avoid properly. The game tries to be accessible by offering players the ability to set the world difficult upon starting a new game, but even settings such as "enemy toughness" and "enemy damage" don't make engaging the infected citizens any more enjoyable or satisfying. Killing one of them is a relief rather than an accomplishment. And yes, the game has weapons, be they melee or ranged. Sadly, every item is randomly placed within all sorts of containers scattered around the city, so you have to be lucky to get something decent or scavenge most things you find in order to craft something useful.
At its current stage, P.A.M.E.L.A. certainly isn't for everyone. Survival enthusiast sure can find enjoyment in roaming around aimlessly whilst trying to survive the harsh situation, but average players might find the same premise daunting, especially with how difficult it can be to understand how the game works beyond its basic mechanics. I was frustrated once I saw how long a beginner's guide was, but I can see how that would be intriguing for some people. It may be difficult to see the game's promise right now but if NVYVE manages to fix its optimization and the planned updates elevate the core ideas, it can be a strong title within the genre. We likely won't have to wait too long to find out, however, as version 1.0 is meant to come out later this year.
Gabriel covered P.A.M.E.L.A. on Steam with a code provided by the developer.