I miss the days of Descent: Freespace and Freespace II. Of X-Wing Vs. Tie Fighter and of decent space sim games in general. So I'm always interested to see if a new one pops up on my scanners. Tarr Chronicles did and it's a bitter-sweet symphony that's playing on my monitor and speakers.
Ok, let's cut to the chase. Tarr Chronicles is a space sim in the traditions of the aforementioned sim-greats that tries to ape those games and fails miserably in certain areas. It's not that it's a bad game; it's just not a very good game either. It falls between the two in some kind of semi-happy balance.
The story is a typical science fiction military one, big ship catapulted into the far reaches of space but devoid of nosey, nasal Captain Janeway thankfully and packed with state of the art military hardware. The ship must fight a Universe Threatening big-bad so everyone can go home to happy fluffy bunny-land for tea and cake time. (Note: there is no happy fluffy bunny-land and the cake is a lie)
The problem with the story is that it makes very little sense, along with the horribly written dialogue and characters that are about as three dimensional as a squirrel that's been run over by a big lorry, sorry, truck for all the Americans out there. Tarr Chronicles tells the story through briefings, journals and sometimes in-mission exposition that isn't so easy to follow due to the previously mentioned horrid writing.
I could write a better story about the squirrel's day at work before his life is cut short by a tragic vehicle related accident.
There's also no characterisation in the game, its card-board cut-out generic. Your character just seems to be one big excuse to sit you down in a first person view and say: LOOK, we have cockpits in our game, see the shiny pretty lights and dials!
That aside, we're not out of the woods yet Flyboy! Oh no, because the game is linear, it's so linear that if you happen to sneeze in the wrong place in a mission you end up failing the objective and the mission. Overshoot a marker by too much, fail. You will find that you have to complete objectives in a certain order; the game won't let you shoot those targets until it's TIME to do SO!
On one hand it's nice to see a return to simpler times, but perhaps I've been spoiled by the free-roaming space games of late that stress a sandbox environment. There are nine of these linear levels, fairly long too and broken up into checkpoints where the game replenishes your stock of ammo and so on. The objectives are the usual run of the mill, patrol, escort and 'shoot the bad guy' types.
The AI is fairly decent, it reminds me of the Freespace days where some of the enemy ships zip around so quickly and have sharp AI that they're a real challenge, this is one of the reasons the game's not in the 'bored with it yet' pile. Your wingman AI isn't bad either and they can sometimes net a couple of kills, the main focus of these guys to me was to draw the enemies' fire and keep me safe however.
Yes, I know, that's not very nice of me but tough.
One aspect of the game I liked apart from the combat, which was pretty fun, is the customisation of your ship. Pick a new ship; load it up to the teeth with weapons and so on. It's not just about packing as many guns or bombs into the thing as it can feasibly hold though, it's about working out what balance is important to the mission at hand. There are some pre-set loadouts but I'm the kind of guy that likes to tinker with things (I loved Chromehounds for the insane customisation) and customise till I'm blue in the face.
If you combine this with the GUI and the no-nonsense controls you can start to get a feel for why despite what I said earlier, I still quite like the game. The story might be a bit strange and the missions linear, but with a smooth GUI and non-cluttered interface, lack of complex controls and fiddly settings it's fairly easy to pick up and play.
So that's the controls out of the way, the gameplay and the general feel of the game.
The graphics in Tarr Chronicles aren't anything amazingly special; they are however by no means shabby. Space is brought to life in a pretty decent way with a large number of celestial objects and in some missions a pretty eerie fog-like effect that limits what you can see. There are some massive super-structures to navigate and the whole thing does a good job of providing that epic space feel some games lack.
The weapon special effects are nice, the explosions are some of the best I've seen in a time and I so wish that they'd replace the ones in X3 with these. They look superb and there are little smoke trails when a ship's about to go down so you can sit back and get ready for the eye-candy.
The ships might look the same in their design but they're well textured enough that it wasn't too much of an issue with me. An icon to tell a capship and a merchant apart might have been a nice touch but after a while I started to pick up on some of the differences and well, it's not too hard to work out when you realise the trader you thought you had in your sights has more guns than the NRA put together.
The music is decent enough but at times the weapon sounds (which are also fairly Ok) can overpower it. Another area that is definitely in need of a polish and re-do are the voices. I mean, these people are mumbling or whispering at times and with the overpowered weapon sounds it's hard to hear what they have to say. In some cases that's a blessing because the voice work is awful, not Two Worlds awful, but getting pretty close.
I don't see it being as replayable as an open-ended space sim to be honest, the linear missions are Ok and they're fun but there's no last ability in this one beyond a single play-through to be honest. It's about time that someone stepped up to the plate and made a game like Freespace I and II, a game that has us enjoying the glory days of those space sims, Wing Commander you can come back, all is forgiven!
Tarr Chronicles isn't a brilliant game, it's not a rubbish game, it's an average kind of experience that's good for a blast but then after that you could play with the impressive customisation options. That's all though, there's nothing truly gripping about anything in the game.