Players take the role of an interplanetary privateer in this space combat simulation from NovaLogic. As the hero Jake Logan (voiced by actor Bruce Campbell) players will choose to lend their services to either the large and powerful GalSpan corporation or the rebels of the outskirt Bora Rebel colony. Rewards earned can be used to upgrade the ship and its weapons, allowing the player to take on greater challenges. The game's story develops over the course of 60 missions with a variety of goals designed to test both the skills and loyalties of the hero. Various styles of multiplayer games are supported over the Internet.
"Just what the heck is a Tachyon?", I hear you ask. Well, here's a brief explanation : a warp is formed in space by a Ripstar, which allows a spacecraft to fly through a faster-than-light wave.
This wave consists of millions of sub-atomic particles called Tachyons, which can never go slower than the speed of light. Tachyon Coil Generators (TCGs) are used to harness this power, creating Tachyon gates which allow you to travel immense distances in just a few seconds.
It's the 26th century, and Jake Logan is quite happily employed as a Corporate star-pilot in the Sol system. Whilst on a routine escort mission to Halley Station though, two shuttles launch carrying passengers riddled with a lethal disease. The occupants refuse to return to the station, and Jake has no other alternative than to eliminate them rather than risk galaxy wide infection.
The shuttle he had been escorting suddenly explodes, taking with it the entire station. Star-Patrol (the local constabulary) appear on the scene, and immediately accuse Jake of the crime. His sentence - banishment to the fringe of colonised space, where anything goes, and anything could happen.
Preparing for Battle
All of Tachyon's locations are split into regions, each of which can be reached via a Mega-Gate, a slightly more powerful version of the Tachyon gate. You need security clearance to use one, and until you have got further into the game you will be fairly restricted as to where you can travel.
Each region has a main base where you will receive all your missions, buy or upgrade ships, and listen to the latest news. You will also be able to hire wingmen (or women) with varying skills and reliability. Unfortunately there is no trading in the game - it's purely mission based, and completing these missions is your only way of making money.
At first missions posted to the job board are from two distinct cultures - the Bora and Galspan. AS you would expect, the two of them aren't best buddies, and you're going to have to pledge allegiance to one of them. There are other missions that come your way as well, usually something dodgy, or else a routine errand.
So far, so predictable.
Before you travel anywhere though, you are advised to get some basic training in. The training mode is excellent, particularly the Saturn ring circuits in which you have to fly through a series of hoops in a set amount of time, getting progressively harder and adding targets for you to shoot.
The HUD at the bottom of your screen is both informative and easy to use. On the left a box shows you your current target and, in the case of an enemy craft, its hull and shield integrity. The next area shows you your currently selected primary and secondary weapons. If the ammunition of a weapon is limited, it also shows you how much you have left.
The centre of your HUD is taken up with a simple but effective radar system, with the usual range of coloured dots depicting the objects around you. Green is an ally, purple is a neutral, and red is an enemy. Gates are shown as blue dots - make sure you know where these are at all times, should you need a quick exit.
To the right of the radar is an icon of your ship, with a circular field around the front and rear. This is a graphical depiction of your shield and hull integrity. If your shields are depleting the circle around the ship will gradually dim, and if your hull is taking a beating the icon will change from green to red.
Finally you have the 'Energy Allocation' section. This is a clever feature which allows you to allocate energy to particular parts of your ship. You can shift more energy to the shields, lasers and afterburners to reduce recharge times, but this has a detrimental affect on the speed of your ship.
Another nice touch is the ship's slide mode. When activated you can rotate your ship in any direction, whilst still maintaining the same course and speed. As soon as you release the slide button your ship will then head in whatever direction it is now facing. This can be very useful when repositioning yourself to dock at a station, and can be very handy in combat to surprise your enemy.
Combat And Multiplayer
Combat in Tachyon is a fairly repetitive affair, but enjoyable all the same. Most battles will involve a blip on the horizon gradually getting closer, eventually blazing its guns at you. You would do well to avoid face-offs, especially in the early stages of the game when your hull will break easier than a soggy biscuit.
Dogfights with enemy craft are quite difficult at first, but once you have mastered how to lead with your laser fire and follow your opponent it all becomes too easy. You will often find that you can pelt the ship with lasers and missiles, and it doesn't make any effort to move. Also, after an initial head on attack, it's very rare for them to put up any further attacks that are of any threat. Most of your deaths will come from tangling with bases, which are heavily fortified with gun turrets.
Disappointed with the AI opposition, I took the game online. Tachyon features an in-game browser which directly connects you to the available servers. Over a hundred star-pilots can be on a server at any time! The servers that I found had nowhere near that number of people on them, but I did manage to find one with nearly thirty, and the connection was still surprisingly smooth and playable.
There are a few breeds of game-type to play online, but the main two are 'Arena Match' and 'Base Wars'. The former is a straightforward free-for-all deathmatch, kill of be killed. 'Base Wars' is what I've been waiting for though... One team play the Bora, the other the Galspan. Each team has to reach a technology level of 10, collecting crystals and defeating any enemy attackers to get the money needed. Once this level is reached, the team can then destroy the other base's life support system. Darn good fun!
The game also comes with its own voice communications facility. Now you really can have your very own wingman!
Graphics and Sound
Tachyon's graphics are rather good. They lack the intricate detail of games like Starlancer and Freespace 2, but are by no means bland, and the size of some of the starbases and freighters is impressive.
The constructions and spacecraft are all well designed, making it easy to recognise locations and the many different ships. Weapon effects are nicely done, and although none of them really leap out and impress, the explosions certainly light up the night sky!
The game is badly let down by the sound though, and the weapons sound puny. Firing your lasers sounds more like a playground re-enactment of Battlestar Galactica then a meaty hull piercing bolt! The explosion sound has no guts behind it either. The noise made by the ships is perhaps the worst though, sounding like a vacuum cleaner gone very wrong!
A decidely average soundtrack doesn't help things either. Never in the game does it grab you, spurring you along to get that next kill. There needs to be far more drama in the music - it is a space epic after all.
The saving grace is the voice acting, which is truly excellent. Most impressive of all is Jake himself, played by Bruce Campbell, better known as Ash from the Evil Dead movies. Some of his sarcastic comments will make you laugh, although whether that's because you find yourself picturing him with a chainsaw strapped on to the stump of his arm saying 'Groovy!' is another matter.
Tachyon's story and gameplay isn't going to win any prizes for originality, and the mission based nature of the game may well dissuade the Elite purists out there.
However, it does have a lot to offer, with an impressive selection of missions to get through, good graphics, and excellent design, not to mention probably the easiest internet play interface you're likely to come across in a space combat sim.
The single player combat is a little disappointing though, as are the poor sound effects and music. Another thing you will notice is that as you upgrade to a newer more powerful ship it never really feels like anything has changed. You keep expecting some sort of learning curve to control a newer model, but each handles exactly the same as the last.
It's all good, harmless entertainment, but don't expect it to be the next great space adventure.
People who downloaded Tachyon: The Fringe have also downloaded:
Starlancer, Freelancer, Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance, Space Interceptor, Terminus, Star Trek: Starfleet Command, Star Wars TIE Fighter (Collector's CD-ROM), Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter
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