Go back to Tachyon: The Fringe

Written by: Rik

Date posted: August 18, 2006

Have I completed Tachyon: The Fringe? I mean, I played through it for a while, then something happened where I had to make a choice between two sides, and then a couple of weeks later we won and it was all over. Result! Well, I thought last month’s feat had boosted my career tally of completions to, er, five-ish; but on reflection, if I lived in some parallel universe in which all games-playing achievements had to be verified by an external adjudicator prior to them being broadcast all over the internet, I think said official would point to me leaving a large section of Tachyon uncompleted. You see, though I did go back to the ‘decision-point’ and choose the other side for the sake of research, I could only bring myself to play a few missions. It just doesn’t feel right when you’ve spent the best part of a couple of weeks fighting the good fight to just take a deep breath, go and make a cup of tea, and then come back and switch sides ten minutes later.

Okay, maybe I’m being slightly too sensitive here, but if you play through a campaign during which you’re constantly being told that the enemy is blowing up hospitals and attacking defenceless in the name of corporate greed, it feels a bit weird to go back and sign up with them once you’re finished. Perhaps part of the problem is that you’re not really given much of a reason to empathise with the corporate thugs; your briefings tell you to eliminate a ‘terrorist threat’, but there’s not much in the way of explanation – you do what you’re told, then you get paid. In an early GalSpan (Tachyon’s capitalist giant) mission, you’re told to open fire on some lurking Bora (that’s the terrorist/freedom fighter/rebellion) ships with very little provocation. Once they’ve been reduced to space debris, protagonist Logan offers weakly, “That’s what happens when you stop me from doing my job, guys” – surely the words of a man who’s not sure he’s doing the right thing.

Come to think of it, I guess I never really got into playing as different sides when it was a popular feature of all good (and bad) RTS games. When Dune 2‘s introduction described the ‘insidious Ordos’ and the ‘evil Harkonnen’, I was only ever going to choose house Atreides. Exactly how this evil manifested itself in terms of the game I’m not too sure (it’s been a while) – but I’m pretty sure there weren’t any missions which required you to demolish a homeless shelter or anything like that. Although when it came to Red Alert, the Soviet missions certainly saw you doing some pretty heartless stuff (for some reason a cut scene involving a soft toy sinking into a muddy puddle sticks in the memory). Okay, so it’s pure pantomime (not to mention only a sodding video game), but again, if you spent your initial game hours fighting for truth and justice, being evil seems, well, a little bit wrong to me.

Of course, numerous titles offer you the chance to ‘play the bad guy’ – and many of them have been pretty good, too. One particular standout is TIE Fighter, infinitely more enjoyable that the original X-Wing, although mainly due to the fact that it’s just a better game, rather than the change of perspective. Speaking of which, though, it does cheat the whole ‘evil’ angle a little by pitting you against Imperial defectors for the majority of the game, rather than the pesky rebel scum. Even controversial crime-sims such as Hitman and GTA aren’t really as ‘sick and wrong’ as the marketing men would like us to believe. Okay, so you’re asked to do some pretty violent things, but generally the game world is best described as amoral rather than evil. You may kill a few cops in Grand Theft Auto, but then in the game they’re generally portrayed as corrupt, trigger-happy thugs who get what they deserve rather than upstanding family men who just want to keep the streets safe for law-abiding citizens. There aren’t any missions where a gang leader instructs you to go to an old lady’s house and con her out of the life-savings she keeps in a vase on the mantelpiece next to a picture of her sweet old dead husband. Well, maybe there are later on in the game; I never did get that far.

Anyway, these ‘evil’ games aren’t really that evil, which probably explains why I’m fine with the sickening violence in GTA but start to get uncomfortable when blowing away righteous freedom fighters in space without even a trace of blood (space deaths are very clean) without a good enough reason. It’s just not enough to turn a story around and say, ‘now, why don’t you play as the bad guys?’ especially when, as in Tachyon’s case, the ‘other side’ isn’t given much context. Fact is, even if you didn’t have a problem with switching allegiances (and given the phenomenal success of Command and Conquer, I’m assuming that most people don’t) the fact that it doesn’t really matter highlights the superficiality of the choice on offer. Want more missions? Insert CD2 then, moron.

But if I can’t deal with this kind of thing, it’s no wonder that the multi-layered, branching storylines of the likes of Deus Ex and Blade Runner have me in trouble. There are just too many goddamn choices – I mean, what’s the right thing to do? And is it always the easiest thing? Frankly, the tension in Deus Ex is almost unbearable for a jumpy gamer like myself, so generally my tactics involved blasting the hell out of everything that moved in the initial missions – which is a sure way to guarantee a bit of a bollocking from your superiors for being a gung-ho tosser. Boo! In Blade Runner, you can make choices that seem like the right idea at the time but end up making you feel like a bit of a shit, wishing that you could go back and undo it all. Which, of course, you can.

Frankly though, if you’ve played through either of those games once, I reckon it’s fair enough to say you’ve completed them. True, you may not have experienced all of the content, seen all the cut-scenes, exhausted all the dialogue options, but if you’ve got the end, it’s finished; it’s up to you if you want to go back and do it all again for the sake of seeing a few new things. So, sod you, imaginary external adjudicator, I’ve finished with Tachyon, and it’s going on my list.