Outer space is a fantastic thing. It gives cause to mystery, exploration, and thoughtfulness, but likewise to fear, anxiousness, and remorse. That is why we've always been fascinated by science fiction. It's also a genre that lends itself well as a wrapper to another: horror. The trailer for Tartarus caught our eye thanks to nods to the kind of sci-fi Ridley Scott showcased in 1979 and its tight focus on the dark intrigue and mysteries of an enormous empty spaceship. It suggested a wild sensual experience, from a debuting game studio even; Tartarus arrives from Turkish team Abyss GameWorks, and it's their very first video game.
In Greek mythology, Tartarus was the underground prison-dimension where evildoers were sent to receive their righteous punishment. As we awake in the kitchen of Tartarus, though, in the form of the miner, Cooper, it seems more like a blessing than a curse. Appearances are on point from the first striking. It is orange, yellow, black and white. Working colours and CRT-screens. Lots of other references to the mythology of Ancient Greece. The setting is thorough and well executed. As a so-called walking simulator should be, the game is fantastic to explore. There are tons of fine details, references to other outer space companies and hints about both the remaining and missing crew. Unreal Engine is used creatively, with a focus on a high contrast between shade and light. The textures are crisp and, to be quite honest, we were very impressed that a tiny studio could make such a beautiful product; 60 FPS, great optimisation, and a tasteful presentation. Can you give extra points for clever budgeting?
We burned through an hour or two just trekking back and forth between the available areas, taking in the sights. Regardless, Tartarus deserves to be experienced if you are a fan of the '70s sci-fi aesthetics. Accomplished interior design, however, is a pretty necessary cornerstone in an adventure game with not much else to do than solve puzzles. And the puzzles are what is supposedly Tartarus' big claim to fame.
On paper, the developers have promised that every single of one of the puzzles are logical and not even that difficult if you just use the inside of your noggin for a little bit. However, while we enjoy adventure games, here we've been pulling our hair out because of the bizarre puzzle solutions that seemingly only make sense to the developers. Alas, the reality of the game is not exactly as Abyss GameWorks wants it to be. Granted, most of the thought processes required were based on algebra, but when things became more practical, we ventured upon endless running and back forth and more than a few red herrings. An in-game example: early on you must find a hard drive, which is present in two places. However, for unexplained reasons, you can only pick up one of them (of course, it's also the one that's easy to miss). This situation repeats itself on several occasions, seemingly as an attempt to artificially prolong gameplay.