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Make It A (Virtual) Reality: Tachyon: The Fringe

If, as a gamer, there’s one genre I’ve really wanted to get involved with but have simply failed to connect with it’s that of the space combat sim. There’s been plenty of rich worlds down the years but the vast majority have felt, at least to me, inaccessible due to the amount of time they inevitably require as well as the fact my PC was inevitably never up to scratch.

Fast forward a decade and a half and the situation is still the same, although during that time the genre itself has faded from prominence. Gone are the days of everything by keyboard and mouse and having 100 million controls spread across them requiring you to be given a natty little cardboard or sticker based cover for your keyboard just to remind you were all the damned things were. It is however on its way back with a vengeance. The ‘Old faithful’ of the genre EVE Online continues to grow stronger and has expanded its universe into other games – Dust 514 and virtual reality (VR) compatible titles EVE Valkyrie and Gunjack.  There’s also exciting experiences such as Elite Dangerous, Everspace, Star Citizen, Stellar and Descent Underground to get your teeth into and is anyone not excited by No Man’s Sky at this point?

Alas, now I’m an adult I’m again back again to questions of time – and my PC still isn’t good enough to play the games I’d be interested in, at least with them looking as good as they should do.

There was though a time when I was truly gripped by a space sim. One I was able to play and get involved in and enjoyed playing. It’s probably one only a handful of you remember. Its name was Tachyon: The Fringe.

The story is as follows: A mercenary pilot-for-hire by the name of Jake Logan is pretty much minding his own business in solar system. He has something of a name for himself in terms of piloting and enough of a reputation that business never gets slack. He’s more than happy to just go through life from contract to contract.  Things are looking up though, his piloting is being sought by the best, the cute space station operator has taken a shine to him and the contracts keep rolling in. Even the mighty conglomerate GalSpan (Galactic Spanning Corporation) has given him a job, delivering much needed medical supplies to a hospital.

Tachyon: The Fringe
Defending a GalSpan capital ship. (Image via IGN)

At which point after you’ve made the delivery the hospital blows up. Well then… that’s a bit of an issue.

Here begins the real game as you are found guilty of a crime you most certainly did not commit, pilloried and, stripped of everything you own are exiled to the edges of human civilisation: The Fringe.

There are a lot of little things that really build up the universe, many groups out for their own thing, the media plays a part in the story and you get all manner of stories from the universe at large that clue you in to future events or alternatively just show that it is a living and breathing universe. You get to choose two rather different paths from that point as you either cast your lot in with the same people who may or may not have framed you (GalSpan) or the renegade mining operators The Bora each side has their advantages in terms of technology and ship designs (which are gorgeous by the wayway) and people will certainly react differently to you depending on where you plant your flag. Not to mention that the apparent blood on your hands is a stain that doesn’t necessarily go away. It is a question of what you want most, to be able to return home to Earth with your name cleared or do you accept your exile and try and save a ragtag group held together with determination and duct tape who just want to protect their homes? Moreover which choice could you live with?

With missions ranging from big to small, dealing with capturing cargo, space pirates, dogfighting and even rescuing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – yes, in space, you read that right – there’s plenty going on. It’s an engaging game and one very heavy on the dialogue which is kind of unusual for a game of its time.  What makes this better is Jake Logan is voiced by Bruce Campbell who really helps bring Logan to life with witty one liners, pithy comebacks and the tone of someone who is a mix of laid back, world weary and burning inside at the injustice of the situation. Cheating even incurs the wrath of Campbell who belittles you with a number of put downs about your cowardice.

Ship to ship fights are often and not easy to master, as you juggle your energy reserves between systems, protect or attack your objectives and try and avoid destruction yourself. Could it make it in VR? Of course it could. Who wouldn’t want any of the previously listed games plus the addition of craziness, Bruce Campbell and a multi-path story that has different challenges? The reason why it has stuck in my mind for this column though is a little control scheme that Tachyon introduced: Slide.

This may seem odd but yes, my case for Tachyon in VR, apart from a criminally overlooked game that would be amazing with today’s graphics, is based on one singular play mechanic.

Tachyon: The Fringe
Kitting out a GalSpan made Orion attack craft.

When in a dogfight or generally flying around your direction and acceleration obviously determine where you go but that isn’t necessarily the case. Whilst you can look around with your mouse that will change your direction. Pressing Q however instigated the Slide move. This locked your speed and direction of travel but allowed you to move the mouse around; this could be used tactically when called upon to see what is around you or when you’re in battle. The key part was when you let go of the key that was then the direction your ship this allowed you to pull off some pretty spectacular turns and manoeuvres to get on the tail of an enemy.

And that is something that would translate over well into VR. After all you have free movement of your head to look around. If that the translated over to the game itself and you pressed a button to say, snap the ship’s trajectory to your view that’d be an interesting mechanic and a slightly different way to use your in-game field of view.

One sometimes frustrating element was your scanners, which were on occasion required to locate a dumped cargo or a specific crystal. Sometimes when you saw something in the distance locking on was difficult. Implementation of eye tracking here would be a beneficial addition and there are a number of different applications that would see it be invaluable in more frenetic and larger battles – especially when dealing with capital ships that in Tachyon required a system by system approach to taking them down.

So would Tachyon: The Fringe work in VR? Yes, with a lot of updated elements it’d certainly be a fun single-player experience. Will we see it again? Well… it is unlikely sadly as Novotech seems to be more managing their older videogames nowadays as opposed to making them.  But I do invite you to check it out on Steam if you get the chance. You’ll see what I mean about its potential.