Tachyon Project is a game on a mission to shake up the twin-stick shooter genre. What started with Robotron: 2084 and then revitalized with Geometry Wars, it must be hard to deviate from the formula and succeed based on the number of games that have released since Bizarre Creations’ magnum opus that have yet to be memorable. What does one do to take an arcade-like experience and expand upon it without uprooting the simple brilliance of it all?
In the case of Tachyon Project, the answer is two-fold. The most obvious shake-up appears right at the menu screen: a story mode. The game begins by showing two hackers trying to upend their government by using an AI that takes the form of an elliptical ship and attack the defenses of a computer, which takes the form of enemies. At the end of the first stage, the AI’s 'parents' are taken away and it’s up to the newly-freed Ada (as the AI had been named) to tackle a set of stages to find out what happened to them.
It’s by no means a compelling tale, but an interesting approach to an otherwise strictly arcade experience. While unobtrusive from a plotline standpoint, the dialog that happens during play is distracting due to a lack of voice over for the narration. The expectation that you’ll read the text whilst playing is a silly one you’ll likely just skip anyways. The real point to story mode is the chance to take on various challenges that the game sets upon you. Nothing that goes beyond 'kill 30 enemies' or 'survive 20 seconds', but there’s enough of a shake-up to keep things interesting.
Thankfully the game does set up checkpoints between waves, because Tachyon Project is damnably hard, sometimes to the point of frustration. You do have a life bar, but getting hit is a jarring experience, to the point where you’ll likely and inadvertently try and escape only to bang up against another foe. However, the point of the game is to continually get better with practice, and in this beating levels feels like a gratifying miracle.
To help you on your crusade to find your folks, you’ll continually unlock upgrades that change up your attack pattern, increase your health or give you secondary weapons that can feel like a Hail Mary sometimes. There’s nothing in your arsenal truly outstanding, but being able to customize your experience via loadout is an interesting proposition. The controls are light and floaty, which gives it a unique feel; add in the need to study and master the various weapons and you’ll have a game you can tinker with for a long time.
If story mode isn’t your bag, there’s a plethora of more arcade-like modes that’ll look more familiar to veterans of the twin-stick genre. Everything from a shrinking arenas to one-hit kill modes to using specific loadouts are all represented. They’re all unrepentant in their challenge, but this just adds to the 'one more time' mentality one might get from such a game.
Presentation-wise Tachyon Project takes the expectant route of having neon-soaked visuals, fiery explosions and a suitably thumpy soundtrack. While kind of boring, it’s understandable to make everything pop to up the tension and make foes noticeable in the periphery via color.
While fun on its own merits, it’s hard not to compare Tachyon Project with its obvious inspiration. The addition of a level-based story mode and customizable loadouts is worth applauding, but when the main game doesn’t feel inspired it’s hard to muster the excitement for it. It has its moments, but it’s not memorable enough to withstand the test of time.