Shaun Munro reviews Tacoma…
The follow-up to Fullbright’s much-discussed exploration game Gone Home is an effort both ambitious and familiar, a frequently haunting, character-driven sci-fi drama that mostly overcomes its occasional divergences into ennui. Mostly.
The year is 2088, and protagonist Amy Ferrier is a technician sent to the titular abandoned space station to retrieve ODIN, a valuable AI, for her employer. As Amy ventures through the station to various access points and downloads chunks of ODIN’s data, she’s left to her own devices to explore and, using the station’s Augmented Reality system, piece together exactly what caused Tacoma to be abandoned in the first place.
Gameplay-wise, Tacoma is an incredibly simple title, and when reduced down to its most base components amounts to plugging in a hard drive, exploring the surrounding areas for AR recordings from the ship’s personnel, re-viewing these recordings from alternate perspectives of other crew members in the vicinity, and then moving onto the next area of the station and repeating the process. Somewhat amusingly, Fullbright has confirmed that the game can actually be beaten by simply watching the data download in real time, if you’re so inclined (for some reason).
Of course, the game is much more than the glib reduction above, and certainly gives the player plenty to sift through, in terms of the many puzzle-like recordings, the plentiful array of electronic documents you can swipe from the personnel, and the litany of objects strewn around the space station.
Though to this end Tacoma‘s core is very similar to Gone Home, the plot is meanwhile basically its polar opposite, and though we’ll keep details vague for the sake of spoilers, there are some genuinely provocative points the game raises about society’s current and future interface with technology, and how that relationship will evolve in fascinating and controversial ways over the coming decades and centuries.
The characters don’t feel far-flung from our own version of the human experience, though, with each of the eight crew members harbouring their own anxieties and, yes, relationship woes. Given the game’s incredibly short length, of around 2-3 hours depending upon how much you explore, it’s impressive that such a large cast feels this well-developed and distinct, even more so when you consider that, visually, they’re really just glowing, human-ish wire-frame blobs.
It’s almost a shame, then, that the game does show what the crew members actually look like in e-mails and so on, because the distorted, imperceptible nature of the coloured figures in the AR recordings would otherwise make it so easy for players to project their own thoughts, feelings and prejudices onto the scenario in an interesting social experiment. Still, for the sake of practicality, it’s understandable.
Much of the game’s success as an existential drama undeniably goes to the fantastic voice acting, which doesn’t feel remotely stagey or over-affected in the way most games do, while the well-realised sterility of the space station’s various hallways, meeting rooms and living quarters hammer home the desperate isolation the characters clearly feel beneath the surface. With almost every wall, floor and surface being slapped in oppressive grey, how could you not suffer from at least a little cabin fever?
As grand as all this is, though, the game does itself few favours by blatantly singling out its own repetition, with each data download and subsequent exploration segment being preceded by a lengthy elevator ride, a rather lazily-disguised loading screen that exacerbates just how disappointing it is that such an artistic and well-crafted game in so many areas has such an unimaginative core loop, especially with it being so short.
In a sense Tacoma feels like a giant contradiction at times, an undeniable stylistic leap from the more pared-down Gone Home, while taking a step back in terms of how the marriage of story and gameplay immerses the player.
However, the game is nevertheless easy to recommend for fans of Fullbright’s previous effort, dripping with genuine human emotion as it is, and presenting plenty for those who love to stop and smell the roses. The inevitable big reveal doesn’t even begin to touch the emotional impact of Gone Home‘s cathartic climax; it’s a half-silly, half-interesting concoction that at least gives players something to consider past the credits.
Even so, some gamers might find the £14.99 launch price a little steep for something you can comfortably beat in under two hours without rushing, so if you weren’t totally in love with Gone Home, you might want to keep this one in mind for a sale instead.
+ Excellent style and atmosphere
+ Terrific voice acting
+ Lots of extra material for those inclined
– Central gameplay loop is rather repetitive
– Steep launch price for the amount of content
Reviewed for PC (also available on Xbox One)
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more video game rambling.