Although many praise Sony for its work with indie developers, Microsoft has a great thing going with ID@Xbox, which doesn’t get enough credit. After all, though it’s had its hits and misses, the platform — which makes it easier for independent developers to release their games on Xbox One — has been responsible for the release of some great and noteworthy titles. It’s a list that includes not only memorable efforts like Outlast and Super T.I.M.E. Force, but also Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition, Never Alone and LIMBO.
Adding its name to the ID@Xbox ranks this week is Eclipse Games’ Tachyon Project. A twin-stick shooter in the vein of Geometry Wars, it presents a relatively interesting way to kill some time, and is a decent game overall. This isn’t a title that you’ll go back to over and over again, though, because it simply doesn’t have the longevity or intrigue to support such play.
Tachyon Project is the story of Ada, a hacking bot that was created in order to get into some of the world’s most secure servers. Designed by two people — whom she calls her parents — Ada possesses incredible artificial intelligence, which aids her in her quest to uncover the truth of her existence after her ‘parents’ disappear. It’s a rather basic story with a predictable twist, but Eclipse deserves credit for at least attempting to implement a good storyline in a genre that doesn’t normally use them.
When it comes to the actual gameplay, things are rather straightforward and will be very familiar to those who’ve ever played a Geometry Wars game. That’s not to say that Tachyon Project is a direct clone, or deserving of such condemnation, but it is quite similar overall.
You play as a ship (or hacking bot, if you’d prefer that), that is dropped into small arenas and forced to survive against a plethora of different enemy variants. How do you that is simple: Avoid contact and destroy everything in sight, using three-hundred-and-sixty degree twin-stick shooting mechanics. Well, that and unlockable power-ups like freeze bombs and proximity mines.
Ada is far from a one-trick pony, because she’s able to morph and change to fit the player’s will. In fact, every part of her approach can be customized, including her base weapons, dual power-ups and two different perks. That said, it’s possible to beat the game without doing much customization.
The campaign — which will take you a good hour or two to complete — is made up of ten different hacks, some of which include boss battles that get more challenging as things progress. What makes this game different from Geometry Wars, though, is that its levels are split up into six different waves, each of which introduces a new objective. One may task you with surviving for 120 seconds, whereas another may have you focus on killing one type of enemy, of which there are many. Too many, in fact, because the game is always throwing new variants at you to its own detriment, making it feel like a lengthy tutorial as opposed to an evolving campaign.
You’ll get the hang of things quickly, but will want to keep play sessions short to avoid repetition from setting in. If it’s one thing, Tachyon Project is simple, which is both a benefit and a hindrance. It’s beneficial, because the game is accessible and can be pretty fun when things get hectic. However, it’s also detrimental, because this design creates a noticeable lack of variety that can lead to boredom. Splitting levels up into different waves also doesn’t help much, as it’s tough to really get into the swing of things when the engagements are often resetting.
That said, Tachyon Project does bring one interesting and forward thinking element to the table, that being its health system, which is tied into its stages’ time limits. How does this work, exactly? Well, unlike in Geometry Wars, you can be hit without exploding and being forced to reset yourself. However, doing so takes time off of the clock, and if time runs out you’re screwed. As such, it’s important to keep your wits about you and move out of the way of enemies — some of whom will charge with reckless abandon — as much as possible. The good news here, though, is that checkpoints are available at the beginning of each wave, and they sometimes take pity on you by giving you time bonuses, thus preventing game over screens from appearing.
Another neat thing about this system, which can actually be frustrating from time to time, is how it’s possible to recoup lost time by killing enemies. It’s a good idea, and one that saved my ass on multiple occasions, but it doesn’t jive perfectly with the game’s overarching design. That’s because enemies aren’t always plentiful, and there were many times where I found myself sitting in place while waiting for more to respawn. Sure, this adds a bit of strategy, but downtime isn’t fun and this isn’t a genre that benefits from withholding foes.
I hate to say it, but Tachyon Project would’ve been more fun if it had dropped its campaign and focused on being more like Geometry Wars. There are challenges of the endless, timed and stealth (the map is dark unless you move) varieties, but even they don’t offer enough intrigue, let alone possess enough staying power, to be infinitely replayable. They do support four-player co-op, though.
On the presentation side of things, we’re given visuals and audio that harken back to yesteryear. I know I’m not alone when I say that Eclipse Games’ twin-stick shooter looks and sounds like it belonged to the PS1 era, because it has that Matrix-like, neo-futuristic look and feel to it. Not only that, but its visuals are dated and simple, as are its still picture cutscenes.
In the end, Tachyon Project is a half-decent game that will appeal most to a select group of gamers. Despite boasting a unique take on incurred damage, the title’s slower pace and occasionally dull engagements hold it back from being as good as it could’ve been.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Tachyon Project presents some interesting ideas, and certainly has its moments, but is ultimately marred by its own design choices.