To ancient Greeks, Tartarus was a dungeon of unimaginable suffering. Abyss Gamework’s Tartarus is an interesting adventure game and a hell of a lot more entertaining than perpetual torment. This amalgamation of hacking and first-person platform puzzles drops players into the bowels of a doomed mining ship, challenging them to work their way out of a gradually decaying orbit. This our Tartarus review for PC.
From the moment that the game’s protagonist, Coop, drags himself up from the galley deck plates, spitting blood and profanities, it is clear that this experience is going to be something different. As the game opens, alarms blaze and it is obvious something has gone terribly wrong. Stuck in the depths of space, and anchored around Neptune, Cooper’s ride is in the midst of a catastrophic computer failure. The crew is dispersed across the ship, trapped in various states of distress, and it falls to the central protagonist to save the day.
The surrounding ship is fantastically rendered for an indie title. Abyss Gameworks make impressive use of the Unreal 4 engine to create a sinking ship that could, at a glance, be mistaken for a backdrop to other disturbingly dark sci-fi titles like Alien Isolation. The guts of this vessel are a definite nod to the classic horror franchise, with dark corridors, crawlspaces, and the eerie hum of the ships system which seems to follow players like a predator. Fantastic ambient sound design keeps player’s on edge at all times, and the palpable tension in Tartarus is complimented by some excellent voice acting. Brandon Fague’s Coop is not the extraordinary all American hero of celluloid, but a distinctly average Joe who is scared witless when we meet him for the first time.
Cooper’s trials begin trapped by the same circumstances that have crippled the rest of the ship. Cut off from the rest of the remaining crew, players will need to rely on their wits to free the trapped contingent. As a miner and cook, Coop does not possess any particularly noteworthy skills. He knows little about running a spaceship, and the evening meal is already ruined. Players will find some assistance in the disembodied voice of Andrews, another one of the ship’s crew, but this does not mean that rectifying the ship’s problems will be simple, and puzzles in Tartarus turn out to be a uniquely perplexing experience.
This title’s mix of point n click and hacking puzzles are a nice mix, that require players to navigate the ship and slowly reset systems to bring the dead spacecraft back to life. This generally makes little concession for player ability. While other games might ease individuals into the experience, the chaos of Cooper’s situation and his lack of technical know-how are used to ratchet up the difficulty of Tartarus. Right from the off, it is obvious that Coop is uniquely ill-prepared to save his crewmates, and Abyss Gamesworks emphasize this when using a very light touch to guide the adventure. Player’s will not find a map of the ship or technical documents rattling around the galley. Security lockouts are frustratingly effective and Coop is particularly vocal when deciphering the ship’s computer systems. The game does provide a very simple inventory system and a quest log, but this is generally all the help a player receives. It is reminiscent of old text based adventures and some scratch paper is absolutely necessary. This proves to be a fantastic narrative touch. Coupled with some outstanding voice acting, it grounds the game in the reality of the situation. Yet, this design decision feels like it is compounded by some troubling issues.
Most frustrating of these is the frequency with which the ship’s computer system, named Farlink, behaves illogically. While Tartarus’s hacking puzzles were not badly designed, in fact, some of them were great, they were undermined by a clear attempt to direct players toward the answer. All too often terminals refuse to perform actions, repeatedly advising that commands are wrong or only allowing specific users to log into the onboard network using specific passwords, at specific terminals. These type of inconsistencies emphasize how incomplete the world feels. A little more forethought into the computer behavior, or even simply adding some lore, might have helped flesh out the world.
Just as the ship’s computer terminals have a tendency to feel illogical, point and click segments of the game can feel unnecessarily difficult. Objectives are, at times, deliberately obscured, making some puzzles feel unintuitive and frustrating. An early example is Cooper’s quest to restore power to the ship’s cargo bay. Rather than lock it behind an environmental puzzle, the required generator room is simply hidden in darkness, with no indication that it might actually exist. This sort of approach can descend into a mindless exercise in clicking everything, or worse leaving players utterly lost.
This is indicative of some great ideas, curtailed by a world that feels incomplete. Too often, items that should be useful are nothing but window dressing. Areas of the ship are inaccessible that should really be, and it is obvious that players can only really do what Abyss Gameworks deem absolutely necessary. This can make the process of escaping Neptune feel like less than enthralling. If you board Tartarus, rest assured there are some still some great moments. The world looks and sounds fantastic. The voice acting is noteworthy, and there’s nothing quite like a panicked antipodean space chef. If you think you have the wits to escape the horror’s that await you near Neptune, Tartarus is out now on Steam.
Final Score: 6.7
- Great Visuals
- A fantastic soundscape that ratchets up the tension
- A nice mix of puzzles
- Exploration feels somewhat restricted
- Terminals and puzzles can seem a little illogical
- Steep learning curve for beginners