This is more of a first impression than a review. Quite a lot of the in game time steam recorded is actually just idling while the launcher was still open.
Pandora: First Contact is a turn based strategy game that tries to revive Sid Meier's Alpha Centaury, strapping it over a modern framework. At that it succeeds.. mostly. While the UI is certainly a lot more user-friendly than that Alpha Centaury had, you'd often like some more information about the progress of your empire.
While the visuals are objectively a straight upgrade form it's spiritual predecessor it still doesn't look all that up to date with some blurry terrain meshes here and there or textures that could have used just a little more polishing. It runs perfectly fine though, at least for me, with a steady framerate even later in the game with much more stuff to process.
It features a quite expansive, randomized techtree that'll take quite a lot of time to get through to the end and while you can customize your units with different waepons, armor and devices the tiered, straight nature of the techtree leaves you with little suprises. New weapons are always just a better version of previous ones with just x more damage, nothing fancy.
Diplomacy is rather bare bones as well with not all that much different options and not always your rivals react reasonable to your actions. You may nuke half of the planet and Mrs. Harmony-and-save-the-planet doesn't give a damn while Lady Religious-Fanatic even though you nuked the warmongering Imperium (which they were at war with as well). Said Imperium declared war on first contact on me by the way. I mean.. they are warmongers and don't like anyone but.. that's quite extreme. I played as the Solar Dynasty, sort of China in space - highly productive, fast growing but reckless which results in a lot more pollution. (save-the-planet liked me though...)
In general the different ideologies don't seem to matter all that much. You pick a faction with fixed strengths and weaknesses and stick with that; no policy system as Civ 5 had for example. Not even the social engineering Alpha Centaury had is present in any way.
They added espionage with their latest DLC along with water-tile improvements and some other interesting but ultimately not that relevant content. Espionage is... well, it works though it's not half as powerfull as you might think as agents are treated as regular units on the map. The way they work is best compared to the privateer unit in Civ 5. They show up as factionless units on the map and may attack empires you are not at war with without consequences though they lack the power to be effective at that. In fact they are easily killed even by the most basic infantry unit. IF they can get to a city though, they may be quite rewarding, based on the economical or scientific strength of your rivals. The only way to be able to get to a city for me so far had been to send a stack of 4 or more agents to a city and just hope they don't get stomped on on their way there - quite costly in production.
All that little flaws put aside that are inherent to games with a very limited budget it still is a solid game. Solid economy-system, solid combat, solid visuals, solid techtree, a good UI and enough things threatening your fledgeling empire to keep you constantly on edge at least up until late midgame.
For the low price you'll get 20-30 hours of fun and addictive "just one more turn" gameplay, if not more.
It may not have the depth of the original Alpha Centauri or the refined looks and gameplay of Civ 5 but, at least until Civilization: Beyond Earth is released, it serves as a rocksolid civ game with sci-fi based setting of which there aren't all that many around.
Fun, addictive, good looking if a little bare boned - Recommended.