Code your way out of dan­ger in this sci-fi adventure

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - Andy Kelly

The devel­oper ad­mits that prior pro­gram­ming knowl­edge will help

The min­ing ship Tar­tarus has ac­ti­vated its se­cu­rity pro­to­col near Nep­tune. It’s up to Cooper, the ship’s cook, to re­store its sys­tems be­fore it crashes into the planet. But Cooper knows more about sautéing mush­rooms than he does re­pair­ing com­puter sys­tems. Luck­ily, he has some help. An en­gi­neer called An­drews, who’s trapped in an­other part of the ship, is guid­ing him by ra­dio, which is eas­ier said than done when you have no ex­pe­ri­ence at all.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing premise for a sci­ence fic­tion game. Tar­tarus is clearly in­spired by the retro­fu­tur­is­tic aes­thetic of Alien:Iso­la­tion, but there’s no oth­er­worldly preda­tor to worry about on this ship; just the loom­ing threat of it plung­ing into the swirling storms of Nep­tune and crum­pling like a soda can. It’s a puz­zle game first and fore­most, and Turk­ish devel­oper Abyss Game­works is keen to stress that a pen and pa­per are re­quired. You’ll ex­plore the ship a lit­tle, but most of your time in the game will be spent with your head buried in chunky com­puter ter­mi­nals try­ing to make sense of these com­pli­cated sys­tems.

You have to dig through mas­sive di­rec­to­ries of fold­ers and files, but with­out the ben­e­fit of a point-and-click GUI. It’s all based around com­mand lines, which means learn­ing a sys­tem’s com­mands be­fore do­ing any­thing use­ful with it. One ob­jec­tive is re­pro­gram­ming a set of mis­fir­ing pis­tons in the ship’s en­gine, which in­volves find­ing pres­sure val­ues and en­ter­ing them into the sys­tem – which is where your pen and pa­per comes in. The puz­zles are, by de­sign, com­plex and in­tri­cate. Abyss Game­works knows this might turn some peo­ple off, but it’s com­mit­ted to mak­ing a hard­core, chal­leng­ing puz­zle game.

The devel­oper ad­mits that prior pro­gram­ming knowl­edge will help and that the learn­ing curve will be steeper if you’ve never writ­ten a line of code be­fore. But it’s cer­tain the game will tell you ev­ery­thing you need to know if you ex­plore thor­oughly enough. I don’t know a thing about cod­ing and, at least in this demo, I found the game a lit­tle daunt­ing at times. Games like Hack‘n’Slash and elseHeart.Break() do a great job of eas­ing ama­teurs into the cod­ing side of things, and I hope Tar­tarus learns a few lessons from them when it’s re­leased. Other­wise, peo­ple who can’t write code will surely hit a brick wall and give up.


Abyss has the at­mos­phere nailed, though. The cor­ri­dors of the Tar­tarus, like the USCSS Nostromo that in­spired it, use light, shadow and an in­dus­trial am­bi­ence to cre­ate a feel­ing of iso­la­tion and claus­tro­pho­bia. The glow­ing CRT mon­i­tors and bulky IBM-style key­boards make for a com­pellingly retro sci­ence fic­tion set­ting. But, at this early stage, the di­a­logue is un­nat­u­ral and badly acted: pre­sum­ably be­cause English is not the devel­oper’s first lan­guage. I’d love to see them hire a writer to craft a ma­ture sci-fi story wor­thy of those vi­su­als, other­wise it could dampen the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence some­what.

Tar­tarus is an in­ter­est­ing game, al­though any­one look­ing at the screen­shots and ex­pect­ing some­thing like Alien:Iso­la­tion may be dis­ap­pointed. This is a game about delv­ing into com­plex com­puter sys­tems to solve puz­zles, not run­ning away from aliens. But the fate of a star­ship be­ing put into the hands of a lowly ship’s cook is a com­pelling premise, and I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing more of what Abyss has in store. The devel­oper prom­ises that the puz­zles will be con­structed with a logic that means even ca­sual gamers will be able to crack them if they per­se­vere, but it re­mains to be seen whether it can de­liver on that prom­ise.

played it

Mak­ing my way to the bridge.

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