It’s the year 2230 and something has gone wrong aboard the MRS Tartarus, a mining spaceship traveling through the stars. As everyone else is either dead or indisposed, it’s up to Cooper, a blue collar miner and the ship’s cook, to access the antiquated computer system to fix numerous problems plaguing the vessel. Most of this is done through command line interfaces reminiscent of DOS. As such, Abyss Gameworks’ first-person 3D exploration adventure TARTARUS is targeted at a very narrow segment of the gaming population. If you’re outside of that limited demographic you will be frustrated. If you’re inside it, you’ll still be frustrated but at least you’ll have a sense of accomplishment as you overcome each programming-based challenge.
As the story opens, Cooper awakens in the ship’s galley, having lost consciousness when an accident caused the craft’s systems to fail. During the crisis, Cooper managed to stab himself in the leg with his own kitchen knife, although this is quickly forgotten as you begin exploring, climbing ladders and crawling through air ducts. In short order, Cooper gets in touch with a man named Andrews over the comms. Andrews is the ship’s engineer, but he’s trapped elsewhere and is unable to deal with the current complications.
Andrews explains that the Tartarus is suffering various system failures and that it’s up to you, as Cooper, to deal with them. The first opportunity to do so comes upon reaching the bridge. Here you will find Andrews’ access card which you can use to access his computer. Picking it up adds it to a limited inventory you carry only for reference rather than for solving puzzles via item combination. Upon taking the card, a series of prompts appear detailing how to display the inventory and view the item in a 3D close-up. At the same time, Andrews and Cooper discuss the next steps to take. I made the mistake of reading the onscreen prompts instead of listening to the conversation. As a result, I missed what Andrews had to say about his user ID and password, and there was no way to replay the information.
TARTARUS utilizes a checkpoint-based system, so I had to restore the most recent save to listen to the conversation between Andrews and Cooper again. Fortunately in this instance I wasn’t set too far back, but there were other sections of the game where I had to quit between checkpoints, losing all recent progress as the game neither autosaves upon quitting nor gives you the option to perform one manually. At any rate, once I got back to where I started, I made sure to listen to Andrews and Cooper and then had no trouble logging in.
The computer systems present a command line interface (CLI) similar to what you would see in DOS, Unix, or Linux command prompt sessions. That’s a fancy way of saying that you’re dealing with ye olde fashioned green text on black background (although you can change the font color, if you prefer). Here you type in various commands such as “list” to show the files in the current folder, or “sf” to change to a different folder. The antiquity of the computers isn’t limited to the command line display either, as none of the computers on the Tartarus are networked together.
The fact that each computer you use has its own set of files and folders to search through would seem tailor-made to afford players the opportunity to snoop through different crew members’ emails and/or other documents. However, only those files and commands that are relevant to the current puzzle can actually be used and you never learn any personal details about your colleagues through your computer interactions. The terminals do list more files than just the ones you need, but anything that’s not important to what you’re currently doing has been corrupted and is inaccessible.
While the command line process is based on similar real world interfaces, it is not an exact reproduction. People familiar with real CLIs will still find themselves stopping to remember the different names the game assigns to standard commands, such as “sf” for selecting a folder instead of “cd” for changing directory. It’s a little thing but it tripped me up on more than one occasion. The commands on offer here are also much more limited than their authentic counterparts. While this is understandable – it is just a game and not a full-fledged operating system after all – it does make some interactions for experienced users more awkward and tedious than they should be.
For those who haven’t had experience with CLIs before, this will likely prove to be a barrier or at least impose a very high learning curve. When you log onto Andrews’ computer for the first time, he remotely walks you through the first couple of commands, literally spelling out the “sf” command for you before an explosion happens and he’s cut off. You’re then left to figure everything else out for yourself, which remains the case for all of the other computers through the rest of the game, even once you reestablish contact with Andrews.
While the computers do provide you with all the information you need to operate them, people unfamiliar with CLIs will be hard pressed to recognize the pertinent information among all the unnecessary distracting data presented. As a programmer, I’ve been using such systems since the old DOS days and there were a couple of times even I struggled due to vague in-game documentation. This problem is compounded by the lack of feedback typically given to you. If you get something wrong, you’ll basically be told you got it wrong without any additional direction. It’s up to you to sort out what you did incorrectly yourself and fix it.
In the CLI portions of the game, you’ll encounter a number of different types of challenges. Most start by searching through all the files in the current folder hierarchy and viewing as many of them as possible. The files that you can open will give you the information you need, in bits and pieces, to solve the main puzzle at hand, which consists of using a specialized view to perform a specific action. For example, when you reach the bridge, the door locks shut behind you due to a piston failure. You then have to run a special program unique to Andrews’ computer that allows you to key in the appropriate pressure values needed to repair the pistons. You’ll need to work out which pressure values to use from the other information found on his computer.Continued on the next page...
What our readers think of TARTARUS
Posted by My Dune on Dec 1, 2017
Reviewer rating on low side
I played this game when it came out and gave it 3.5 stars. I had a great time and I recommend everyone to play. The game looks nice and the puzzles I found quite good and good to do. The story I found exciting even though it was a little predictable. At least,...