Genre: Space Combat
Publisher: CDV / GamersGate
Release Date: September 24, 2007
It seems humans become a bit of an unpopular race in the distant future, as almost every space adventure or futuristic title out at the moment focuses on how we'll be fighting for our very existence. You think we'd take the hint, but Tarr Chronicles thrusts the player through yet another wormhole into a dystopian future where you must lead the last remaining humans to a safe haven, guided by ancient alien artifacts.
The story begins with your character being part of an elite flight squad called Omega, fleeing from the advances of a seemingly unstoppable galactic cataclysm known only as the Mirk. A recent scientific discovery made by scientists from your home, the Torpan system, may hold the key to your salvation, uncover the mysteries of the Mirk and possibly lead to an ancient undiscovered system far out of the sights of potential enemies. You live aboard the Talestra, an advanced war frigate and the last remaining Torpan vessel able to make the dangerous journey for survival. This alone should get any science fiction aficionado drooling, and if any of it seemed reminiscent of "Battlestar Galactica," then you'll be in the right mindset for playing this game. The story that you participate in, however, is merely the tip of the iceberg in Tarr Chronicles.
Even though you play through the eyes of a human trying to survive, the universe of Tarr Chronicles is comprised of an intricate and engaging backstory that branches into dozens of races, events and timelines that don't even appear in the main story. It's obvious from first glance that the narrative of this title runs deep. Your main adversary comes from a race called the De'Khete, who are the Mirk-corrupted form of a proud warrior race who live alongside Torpan humans, the Mea'Tarr.
You are the pilot of a completely customizable fighter, so you'll spend about as much time tweaking and fine-tuning your craft as you will actual flying it. This is a refreshing twist in a title which could simply be boiled down to, "aim and fire at these ships over and over again." The game boasts over 150 wings, engines, cannons, rockets and other subsystems around which to model your very own fighter, allowing for unparalleled customization to suit your individual style.
The vast amount of possible modifications means you have to pay close attention to how you want your craft to perform, and from what I can see, these adjustments will make all the difference during combat. An auto-build system is also available, which means gamers who simply want to re-enact "Battlestar" don't need to hassle over the weight or power consumption of certain parts and can get right into the battle. With such a level of customization, it would be easy to confuse gamers, but the system is done in a very simple way, with only energy and weight of the craft being the limiting factors. Creating the perfect ship is a fascinating and engrossing challenge.
The flying portion of Tarr Chronicles feels a little more simplified, with objectives ranging from destroying all enemies in an area to protecting the cruiser. Levels are split into smaller subsections, allowing your craft to heal between rounds onboard a tech support ship (but oddly enough, you can't reload ammunition). The game controls are almost identical to that of Freelancer, as dogfights will see you shooting at a target in front of an enemy ship. Heavier fighters will also feel a lot more sluggish than their lighter counterparts as you guide them with your mouse. Top speed is controlled by the scroll button whereas acceleration is controlled by the W key; this allows for sharp shifts in speed and a more easily maintained cruise mode. The controls are very simple, which is a definite plus, considering the intensity of some of the dogfights calling for hairpin turns and steady aim. When there's no time to think and a missile is homing in on your tail, you don't want to be fumbling around your keyboard for the thrust key.
The weapons system provides a lot of variety, although the game only allows you to fire one at a time, which poses interesting tactical problems. Do you opt for shield-depleting weaponry or go for sheer armor penetration? This is one of many choices that the title asks to make, and it will affect how you play and the experience you get from Tarr Chronicles.
The graphics of Chronicles are colourful, vibrant and pretty, with some overblown explosions of defeated starships adding a sense of scale to the dogfights. Each area of space appears different in theme, from orbiting vast metropolitan city planets to maneuvering through dangerous asteroid fields. The sense of scale is captured well in the backdrops, with planets dwarfing your little ship as you draw closer. The structures and space stations are also massive and near awe-inspiring to look at. The graphics are nice enough to absorb you into the Tarr universe, but not really challenging the modern greats in terms of advancement or detail and in places it even look a little rough around the edges.
If the graphics add to the atmosphere of Tarr Chronicles, then it's the audio which completes it. Epic musical scores and constant radio chatter make even the most mundane firefights seem tense and seat-grippingly exciting. The constant streams of laser fire and the booming explosions of obliterated cruisers make dogfights vastly more entertaining than the simple repetition of search and destroy, which each mission will more than likely call for.
Tarr Chronicles promises a more technical, and, dare I say, "realistic" view of space fighters. Combined with dynamic audio and vibrant graphics, it is sure to find an audience. Those of you yearning to get into the cockpit of a fighter again will feel right at home with the controls and the pace of action. There is a substantial narrative surrounding Chronicles, in which hardcore RPG fans can immerse themselves. Hardcore space fans should definitely watch the horizon for it later this month.
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