The twin-stick shooter genre has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance in the past decade, thanks mainly to the simplistic nature of the core experience providing a good starting point for many an indie studio. Even after all this time, whichever twin-stick you play is usually no more than a more complex offshoot of Asteroids, so it’s a given that a lot of attempts to shake things up have already been done. As a result you can accept that the basic structure will likely always be very familiar territory for anyone who’s played games for longer than a year. With so many twin-stickers knocking about these days, you have to do at least one of two things to stand out and get noticed. Either you make it gloriously pretty-looking (Resogun). Or you make inventive twists on the established formula of the twin-stick shooter (Geometry Wars…also Resogun). Eclipse Games’ Tachyon Project does indeed put its own spin on the long-standing genre, but does that make it a winner?
Tachyon Project actually has a story, a simple, yet intriguing setup for the waves of shootybangs to come. You control an A.I. called Ada, the creation of a pair of hackers that starts the game by being let loose into a network. Things go south for Ada’s ‘parents’ after this, and it is left alone to survive in a series of ten different networks in order to try and reach its creators. The enemies Ada faces are essentially the network’s protection, hunting down this rogue to defend the host. As efforts go into adding background detail to a run-of-the-mill genre, it’s a pretty good one, though the static storyboards that advance the plot are not quite as interesting as they first appear,despite having a pleasingly early 90’s vibe to them. Also, I missed portions of the story first time round because text was onscreen at the same time I was playing, meaning I had to choose which part to concentrate on; being as the game is the meat and potatoes of it, I was always going to pick the game. It’s one of those flaws that seems obvious out in the wild, but easily passed over during development. It’s a shame that it distracts from the attempt to tell a story, but at least it doesn’t greatly affect the game itself.
Tachyon Project starts in a pretty standard manner. Small, slower moving enemies drift towards the hail of bullets that Ada spurts out, but gradually, the enemy types get more and more varied, with a pretty impressive amount of differing baddies to get to grips with. The Bull spawns in one part of the screen and charges at the other end, obliterating anything in its path – dodge it and it destroys itself on the wall. There’s shielded enemies you have to circle behind to deal with effectively, mine types that sporadically shoot out four long tripwires to catch you out, and builders that create more enemies if not swiftly dispatched. Basically, there’s quite a few types. These are all easy enough on their own, but as levels progress, you find yourself hounded by a combination of enemies, and things get suitably frenetic. Luckily, it does come down to your dexterity where progress is concerned because Tachyon Project’s controls are solid and responsive, so frustration is more likely to come from your personal abilities, though sadly some enemy patterns do seem a tad cheap, so that can also aggravate. Ada also suffers from a little bit of recoil when firing the main weapon, but it’s easy enough to accommodate into your playstyle.
Tachyon Project may be fairly regular twin-stick stuff at its core, but it does also have a bit of a tactical edge to it; some stages are harder with your preset weaponry and perks, and as you progress you open up new ones that can be more effective against the later enemies, so if a boss fight is proving particularly tough, it pays to experiment with your setup a bit. Proximity mines are good for taking out swarms of smaller foes, while the freeze bomb comes in handy for making pinpoint shots on better-protected ones. The spread of your main gun is also upgradeable and again gives you ample opportunity to chop and change it depending on the scenario you face. It’s certainly closer to something like Dead Nation than Super Stardust in that regard, where the preliminary weapons don’t just become useless the second the next one shows up.
Also adding a bit of variety is how each wave is approached. Rather than simply issue a set number of overall kills per wave (though that does happen as well, but with time limits attached), Tachyon Project marks a particular enemy type each time and sets an arbitrary number of them to be dispatched,. This is fairly simple in the first couple of stages as there’s just enough going on that you can easily pinpoint the required targets, but later on, when multiple types are zipping about the place, you’ll need to keep your wits about you to spot them. It adds nicely to the already chaotic pace, and for the most part, drags the game away from becoming a mind-numbing procession of death that afflicts so many of its kind.
For all the inventive ideas that Tachyon Project has at its disposal, it still doesn’t quite hit the spot in the same manner as the very best twin-stick shooters do. It’s easily one of the best mid-tier experiences in the genre, and it’s a good advert for proper use of the Unity engine, but Tachyon Project just doesn’t have that magic sparkle that will have you infatuated with it in the same way as the greats. Tachyon Project is a good game that’s a decent investment for a few hours of carnage, but it doesn’t feel like one you’ll come back to all that much beyond that.