P.A.M.E.L.A. is an open-world survival-horror game set in the once utopian city of Eden, now nothing more than a breeding ground for otherworldly monstrosities. As you might expect given its genre P.A.M.E.L.A. features plenty of exploration and passive storytelling, resource management, and tense situations where combat might not always be the best option.
Much like the vast majority of survival games out there P.A.M.E.L.A. is currently in Early Access, which means it is both unfinished and unpolished. So if you're interested in finding out whether the current version of P.A.M.E.L.A. is even worthy of your attention, allow me to give you my thoughts on the gameplay presented so far, and you can decide from there.
Video version of this review (~11 minutes)
Once you've uttered a prayer to the machine god and somehow gotten through the 5 minute loading screen without crashing you will be met with a rather intriguing intro. Before you even have a clue about what's going on you will find yourself nearly drowning in a cryo-chamber, only to then get unceremoniously dumped onto the ground. Once you finally get your bearings and start exploring around it will quickly become apparent that something terrible has happened to Eden. The station itself is almost perfectly maintained, yet the only human beings you will encounter throughout the intro sequence are corpses twisted in bizarre and strangely artistic positions.
In many ways this introduction reminded me of System Shock and its slow, creeping horror. What I mean by this is that P.A.M.E.L.A. never makes you think the world is over, but it most certainly make you feel like you're not welcome in whatever nightmare you awoke in. It is a very atmospheric start that instantly got me interested in exploring everything P.A.M.E.L.A. has to offer, but also slightly weary of the terrors that might await just around the corner.
Unfortunately for the whole horror aspect of P.A.M.E.L.A, the nearly complete lack of sound ended up eroding the atmosphere the intro spent so long setting up. Its perfectly fine to have a quiet section while you're still exploring the world and getting used to the controls, but when you're running through the middle of the city there should be at least some ambient sounds to psych you out. Perhaps a quiet groan off to the left, or the sudden rustling of leaves right behind you - things that make you subconsciously panic and never let you cool down while in a dangerous area. In P.A.M.E.L.A. there is almost none of this, just the tip-tap of your footsteps and the occasional combat music when you slam face-first into an enemy.
It would be a work of art if it wasn't a rotting corpse
Besides exploring the environment you will spend the greater part of the intro picking up food and gear from various contains. Since P.A.M.E.L.A. is a survival game you only have a limited amount of inventory space, so choosing which items to carry and which ones to leave behind is an important part of gameplay. Do you carry around tons of food and water to ensure you don't die of starvation, or do you focus on conditionally amazing items like power sources and ammo? These are the questing I would be asking myself if P.A.M.E.L.A. didn't sprinkle three million containers throughout every area of the world, essentially ensuring you will never run out of provisions!
The system itself works perfectly fine, and the decisions you theoretically have to make are quite tough, so hopefully the developers will tone down the amount of stuff you can find laying around in each and every dumpster. And speaking of dumpsters, the containers are actually the worst part of this whole system. You can't just open them when you see their bright green glow, you have to first waste an entire second scanning them before your character realizes how handles work. I guess this whole process is here to prevent you from looting in the middle of combat, but the only thing it really does is add a small layer of annoyance between you and your prize. It also doesn't help that some of these crates need to be not only scanned, but also 'hacked' through an incredibly simple mini-game that anybody with a working set of hands can easily pull off. These sort of issues are nothing major, as I'm sure you're aware, but they do slowly grind down your sanity over time, so I'd like to see the developers tweak them somewhere down the line.
I might be going slightly insane, but I do love playing 'inventory tetris'
The whole introductory section is completely safe in order to give you some time to adjust, but once you step outside the cryo-chamber doors you're going to have to deal with the infected. They are pretty much your standard zombie enemy, though they do seem to have some higher cognitive thought which mostly manifests itself through screams and insane muttering. When I first bumped into one of these infected in a dark corner I nearly peed my pants as I had no weapons or armor to my name. I had to beat the thing down with my bare hands, losing the vast majority of my health and resources in the process. After that I spent the next 30 minutes avoiding combat like the plague, always weary of corners and doorways given how few sound queues P.A.M.E.L.A. gives you for dangerous situations.
All of that tension and fear quickly dissipated once I snuck into a large room and noticed five infected fighting against a single robotic sentry. You would think the poor robot would stand no chance, and you would be right, but the enemy AI is so broken they were barely able to reach him, let along fight him. It is while watching this circle of failure that I realized the enemies in P.A.M.E.L.A. are not something you have to fear, because why would you be afraid of a monster you can easily avoid through tactics such as "move slowly backwards"? As you might imagine this swiftly erased any and all "horror" from this survival horror, and from that point on I pretty much played through P.A.M.E.L.A. like a Terminator, completely safe in the knowledge that my enemies can be outsmarted by the floor they stand on. If P.A.M.E.L.A. is to be a survival horror this is the first aspect of gameplay the developers will need to improve, because until the players fear each and every encounter with the infected its going to be neither.
The thing looks downright terrifying... until you realize it can't even walk straight
Much like the vast majority of survival games out there P.A.M.E.L.A. allows you to construct your own base, but its not quite as simple as smashing two rocks together. Since P.A.M.E.L.A. mostly deals with advanced technology its impossible to create the items from scratch, and this is where the inventory system starts becoming interesting. You can construct a little base with its own power source, hydroponics station, personal shielding system, and various other luxury items like that, but you have to first find and bring those items to where you want them. Since each one of these items takes around 1/4 of your initial inventory you're going to have to dump some of your provisions in order to carry them, which obviously brings with it a whole set of potential complications. Also, if your base ever outlives its usefulness its not going to be an easy task moving all of those heavy items around, so don't get to used to having a safe haven available at all times.
Its a bit of a strange system since you need to invest a lot of time to construct what is essentially a temporary shelter, but it goes surprisingly well with the whole survival horror theme. You can create a nearly perfect fortification with its own source of food and a place to rest, but sooner or later you're going to have to leave all of that behind in order to journey into the darkness. The only thing I can even complain about is that the actual process of placing those items is somewhat finicky, but that's not much of a deal-breaker for an Early Access game.
Given the size of these items I think you can understand why moving them around is so hard
Despite the enemies being about as dangerous as an overly enthusiastic kitten you will eventually mess up and find yourself on the wrong end of a robot's power-fist. If this unfortunate scenario ends up happening to you I'm afraid that's it - your character will be yet another victim Eden chewed up and then promptly spat back out. However, while your character and gear may be lost to the nether, the experience you've gained throughout your life can be used to bolster your future playthroughs. As you might expect this is done via a rather simple talent tree, and while it doesn't drastically alter the gameplay it does allow players to slowly make their character much more effective, essentially ensuring everyone will get to the "end-game" eventually.
Besides giving your character slightly better stamina or damage reduction you can also choose which cryo-chamber you will spawn from. You start with only one potential location available, but as you trek across the city you can find and repair a whole bunch more. Since each cryo-chamber is physically located at a different part of the city your choice is not simply cosmetic - it affects both the difficulty and availability of loot. If you spawn in a residential area you're going to have to contend with tons of infected early on, but you will have plenty of food and medical supplies to keep you going. If you choose to go near the garrison instead you will find yourself well-stocked on weapons and armor, but heavily lacking in other supplies. This is not only a great way of choosing your difficulty setting, but it also makes a lot of sense in-universe, so consider me impressed with how well managed death is in P.A.M.E.L.A!
Pick your poison!
Like the vast majority of Early Access survival games P.A.M.E.L.A. is full of potential. The world is interesting to explore, the loot system seems like it can offer a whole bunch of tough decisions after a couple of updates, and the fallen utopia setting is a perfect fit for P.A.M.E.L.A's survival-horror theme. If the developers could fix up all of the major issues, most notably the atrocious enemy AI and near-complete lack of sounds, I could easily see P.A.M.E.L.A. becoming a genuinely good survival-horror game. However, until that happens I would recommend you wait with your purchase because while P.A.M.E.L.A. has plenty of potential, that potential has not yet been fully tapped.
Having horror games set in daylight is quite a rare occurrence