Twin-stick shooters have found a veritable home on PS Vita, thanks to Sony’s wise decision of implementing dual stick controls into the Vita’s ergonomic hardware design. Super Star Dust Delta and Geometry Wars shine brightly on Sony’s diminutive handheld, but more games of their ilk are always welcome to the party. Enter Eclipse Games’ Tachyon Project, a twin-stick shooter heavily inspired by classic shoot-em-ups of the past, that hopes to ride on the coat tails of the aforementioned titles and bring a little shmup magic to the table. Unfortunately, the magic Tachyon Project brings with it is an amalgam of painfully boring one-trick-hits that you’ve seen done better a million times before and a raft of amateur illusions that are bone-crushingly devoid of the dexterous sleight of hand that the genre kings have finely mastered over years of fine-tuning a time-tested formula.
It’s a shame really because Tachyon Project does have its heart in the right place. The story, for a start, is a pretty interesting one, especially for a genre that is not really known for its narrative or storytelling punch. You are Ada, a piece of sentient AI software designed to hack into government network systems in an attempt to uncover their dark and dirty truths. Unfortunately, following a rather fruitless test run, which acts as the opening level to the game, the police are notified of the hacker’s whereabouts. In a panic, the hackers unleash the sentient program into the network. Thus, you play as the self-aware AI program Ada whose primary goal is to find her way back to her human creators who she affectionately refers to as her “parents.”
I do admire Eclipse Games’ attempt at trying to interweave story elements into its twin-stick shooter formula, but it sadly falls a little flat as there is no discernible voice acting to be found in the game, which really hurts the narrative exposition. Some of the story is even told through tidbits of text that appear during the gameplay and trying to read text whilst the chaotic gameplay unfolds is as frustrating as it sounds.
The gameplay on the other hand fares a little better. Much like Geometry Wars or Super Star Dust Delta, you control your ship with the left stick and control your gunfire with the right stick with the ability of flying and shooting in a 360 degree angle. As you “hack” through the network’s array of systems your task is to shoot down the vicious security programs that aim to eradicate you. New enemies are introduced with regularity and the screen is often teeming with hordes of sentient nasties that want to pull the plug on you.
There are 10 levels in all and each stage has multiple waves with certain objectives to complete that mostly boil down to “kill everything that moves.” The game’s scoring and life point systems are fairly boring too. Each level begins with a timer and it is your job to stop it from reaching zero. Shooting down enemies adds valuable seconds to the clock, whilst getting hit by enemies diminishes time from your clock. To truly achieve the higher scores, you must pick up the floating gems that each enemy drops to increase your multiplier, which helps encourage some pretty nail-biting moments of rushing head-first into swarms of enemies. This is one of the coolest mechanics of the game and definitely where the game shines best.
The game rewards the player amply with new weapons such as machine-guns, a shotgun-style weapon and even a pretty cool super-powered lazer. Nevertheless, the gameplay overall failed to really click with me. Maybe it was because the difficulty was pitched a little too low, or maybe it was because the underlying feeling of deja vous weighed a little too heavily on my experience, but all in all Tachyon Project just feels so painfully derivative.
My main issue with the PS Vita port of Tachyon Project is that it runs fairly poorly on the handheld’s hardware with frequent framerate drops and a general lack of polish that seems to permeate throughout this lacklustre and shabbily cobbled together port. It’s clear the Vita can power top-notch shmups, as Geometry Wars and Super Star Dust Delta have already proven. Both aforementioned titles came out several years ago (Super Star Dust Delta was a launch game for heaven’s sake) and both games not only run superbly, but are visually in a completely different league to Tachyon Project.
Which leads me onto my next issue with the game: Tachyon Project’s painfully dull presentation. It’s not only the poor port job that frustrates me, but the game as a whole is bone-crushingly cheap-looking, with no-frills visuals and dire, uninspired level design, boss designs and particle effects. It sure ain’t a looker and when you combine that with the poor performance issues it becomes a bit of a deal breaker. Adding to all this frustration are a handful of glitched trophies, on the Vita version at least, which refuse to unlock despite accomplishing the necessary criteria.
The music, on the other hand, is pretty cool Electro-Techno flavoured beats that helps to keep the game’s action chugging along at a decent pace, but all in all it’s hard to get too excited when the gameplay is this so unsatisfyingly mundane.
I really wanted to like Tachyon Project. Shmups are a genre that I have grown up with and a genre that I very much enjoy, but it’s so hard to get away from that feeling of deja vouz when each level feels the same, each boss feels so been-there-done-that and each enemy is only a slight variation of the last. If the presentation was up to snuff and Vita’s port job was handled with a little more care, then I think this game would be worth a look, albeit in a sale, but as it is, it’s simply impossible to recommend to anyone but the staunchest of shmup fans and even then I’d suggest that you dial back your expectations. Vita fans and shmup fans deserve better.
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