WHAT WE LIKED
º Enemies will pop in right underneath you, destroying killstreaks in frustration.
While I’m not a huge fan of the genre, I do enjoy the occasional shooter. Tachyon Project does share characteristics with other twin stick shooters, but it forges its own path- even if that path is filled with busted up and familiar geometric shapes. It provides a narrative experience to flow under the chaotic action while introducing some much-needed customization and substance to a classic arcade experience. While it probably won’t overtake the Geometry Wars franchise, it does offer a different risk-reward system that fans of top-down shooters should check out.
To start, I should reveal that there is a storyline to this game. As crazy as that sounds, the team at Eclipse has put a little time and effort into making me care about my main character- the ship. In the game, you play as Ada, a super computer hacker that was built by two programmers; Helen and Halt. After you’ve been launched, they take you on what’s supposed to be a simple run through some secure servers, which quickly ends up going south. Even after jumping twenty locations across the globe, you’re unable to shake the tracking software, leading police right to your creators’ door. Helen dumps you out into the internet before the two gets hauled away to an unknown location. You, taking on the persona of an abandoned child, go out in search of your lost parents.
Why you look like a ship- who knows. It’s the internet. Haven’t you ever watched Johnny Mnemonic; the future is wild- okay? But, it’s nice to know I’m not just some ship shooting polygons, but an orphan looking to bring down the man. It provides some additional incentive to get used to the nail-biting gameplay. You’re not just shooting some randomness on a two-dimensional grid; they’re firewalls or something.
The gameplay was a pleasant surprise at how innovative some of the choices are. The greatest thing about this game is the time feature. You’re given a small amount of time to quickly rack up some dropped points to add additional seconds to the clock. When you’re hit, you lose a fair amount of your valuable seconds and any combo multiplier you’ve got going. This provides a real level of challenge while the timer is ticking away, forcing you to juke your way through enemies as you pick up nanoseconds off the board. It’s a fantastic system, one that encourages you to slowly build up your multiplier as you take down enemies, allowing you to collect an enormous bonus to your health and time. It’s heartbreaking when you’ve been building up some enemies to cash in on your twelve-time bonus, only to have some random ship clip you, sending you back down to one and with less time than before.
There’s also an excellent selection of customizable skills and secondary weapons for you to choose from. These upgrades are unlocked by those same microseconds, which is another great encouragement to rack up as many as you can at the risk of a perfect run. Ada can be equipped with a couple of different guns, including a standard shooter, machine gun, shotgun, missiles, cluster bombs and a laser. You can also outfit your- Ada- with two different abilities, like increasing your health, being faster, firing frequency, increased damage, heat seeking or ricocheting bullets and the ability to knock back your opponents. You also get two secondary weapons, including a cascading explosion, proximity mines, the ability to slow or freeze time, a temporary shield, a decoy, detachable turret, protective drone and the ability to go into a frenzy of speed and power. All these choices add to whatever strategy works best for you, and can be changed out before a level, or when restarting a checkpoint.
When you use one of those secondary weapons, it does take time to recharge, and it also drains away precious seconds from your reserve. If you’re in a crazy combo, it’ll probably be worth it since you can just pick some more up- but using them repeatedly can leave you famished for some time if you’re not careful. But, the name of the game is getting the highest score you can, so the best strategy is to get a nice amount of time, crank out those secondary weapons at the right time, and laugh your way to the bank.
Tachyon Project does feature a large assortment of enemies, somewhere in the 25-30 range, and they have a fantastic range of attack, from suicidally rushing towards you and slowly floating around waiting for you to mistakenly run into them. The only bit of frustration is when they pop in underneath you, which can peeve you off if you had a nice streak going. The game also has four boss battles, and I wish the experience had more of them in the ten stages available because they were well thought out and fun to tackle. Once you do complete the game and get the somewhat predictable ending, the game does offer an excellent assortment of arcade-inspired challenges to hone your skills in. Of course, there’s an endless mode, but there’s also a stealth mode (where the screen is darkened except around your immediate area), a non-regenerating time rush mode, one where your play area is restricted due to expanding mines, a one-hit mode, and specific weapon challenges.
The art design might be one of my bigger complaints. Level design is overly simplistic, and the background can be pretty distracting. I imagine in an attempt to avoid the bright neon color scheme of similar shooters, the enemies are half transparent and dimly lit leaving them hard to see over the muddy backdrop. There are some shifts in color based on the level, but outside of that, the game is visually very repetitive and uninspired. The menu is also pretty unremarkable, consisting of a space-like background with a connected wire representing the levels. The in-game cutscenes are also very misguided, with some scenes looking like quickly done watercolors with contrastingly simplistic models on top. I didn’t expect the cutscenes, so they were nice to see- but they could’ve had more effort thrown into them so I could see what the backgrounds are.
The game’s soundtrack is also a bit of a disappointment. In the game, it sounds alright, but it gets repetitive pretty quickly, and plays exactly like you would imagine; the leftover tracks from The Matrix. It’s just so “on the nose”, consisting of the same digitized piano and synthesized knocks we’ve all heard before. I did like the effects when you take down particular enemies, distorting or slowing down the track as the enemy explodes. Put on your own music, and you’ll be a lot better off. To be honest- I even had the game glitch out my PS4 several times, completely dropping all sound effects and music, even in the system menu.
Despite these small grievances, I did enjoy my time with the game. If you want to breeze through the story, it should only take you an afternoon, with the additional challenges that offer leaderboards to topple for the truly brave. For ten bucks, it’s not a bad buy and should give you several hours of enjoyment and shape-blasting fun.