Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4,
Genre: Walking Simulator
Tacoma first latched onto my periphery when it made its debut at the 2014 Game Awards. With its seemingly-defunct space station, the early footage radiated a vibe of atmosphere and curiosity. On the heels of critical praise from its critically acclaimed debut title, Gone Home, developer Fullbright promised another tantalizing adventure. Now, after a slight delay, we get to step foot on Space Station Tacoma and see for ourselves what plights the crew suffered.
The ship’s medic, Sareh, practices meditation and yoga. She invokes some some mantras at times to help focus and calm herself. Beyond that, there is little to no spiritual content in the game.
There is no violent content in Tacoma.
The crew on board on board Tacoma were working through a crisis. At times, their emotions fly and the gloves come off. Expect to hear anything you would in an R-rated film, particularly F***.
Of the six members on board the Tacoma, half are homosexual including a newlywed couple that tend to be outspoken in their affections toward one another. They have signs up in their quarters with phrases like, “If the bunk is rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’.” During one scene, one of individuals jumps on the other, knocking both to the ground, as a way to initiate sexual interaction.
There is no drug or alcohol use in Tacoma.
The tale of Tacoma is one of despair. Despite fear and self doubt, there is hope. The game is also a celebration of life and ingenuity.
Despite never seeing any faces on bodies, Tacoma manages to tell an engaging story with fantastically realized characters. It’s 2088 and the seminal space station, owned by mega-corporation Venturis, has lost all signs of life following a reported meteor strike. Artificial intelligence expert Ami (the player) is sent in to recover the station’s primary A.I., ODIN, and uncover what happened to the crew. By sifting and scrubbing through ODIN’s augmented reality archives, Ami not only learns the fate of the crew, but comes to know each of the members on a personal level, learning their motivations, desires, struggles, and more. Though the premise may sound about as appealing as watching paint dry, it actually became quite compelling, like a novel you just have to keep turning the pages on.
The core gameplay mechanics aren’t anything new, but Tacoma‘s execution makes everything feel fresh. As you work through the station, new sectors will become available. After a Mass Effect-length elevator ride (a cleverly-masked loading animation) from the central shaft, you’ll arrive, set up your tablet to begin downloading ODIN’s data, then take off to explore the area. As you go from room to room, you’ll occasionally encounter interference, indicating you can download a scene from ODIN to review.
After downloading a scene, you can play through it, moving freely as the scenes unfold. Each of the six crew members are symbolized by a unique color and icon representing their role on the ship. Along the way, there will be opportunities for Ami to dig deeper into crew member data: emails and texts they’ve sent, personal documents they’ve been reviewing, people or places on their mind, etc. As an augmented reality expert, you can pause, rewind, fast forward, and play the scenes just like a film.
In order to experience everyone’s conversations and retrieve their data, though, you’ll have to maneuver throughout the ship, following crew members room to room as they live out each scene. Experiencing only a few key points are required to progress, but I would highly recommend you take the time to follow through on each character’s recording and explore all of the ship. It’s worth your time!
As far as visuals are concerned, Tacoma presents a good lived-in world for Ami to explore. Environments are detailed down to trash in crew quarters you can sift through. If you pay enough attention, you can even read the ingredients on food wrappers or shampoo bottles. There are some fun environmental nods throughout the game as well. The decision to make each character stand out visually, however, is the kicker that really helps Tacoma stand apart. It’s easy to follow and looks pretty cool, granting both form and function to the experience.
The voice acting is the game’s real star, in my opinion. You can feel the emotion in every line each character delivers. Worry, hope, affection, gratitude, and more are clear in the delivery. It helps make the idea of exploring an abandoned space station that much more realistic and engaging. It’s not just one VO performance that’s well done, either. Each character’s delivery is fantastic.
While exploration games may not be for everyone, Tacoma is an experience I will not soon forget. Fullbright has not only created a game, but a lived-in world with relatable characters despite only appearing as holograms. Excellent storytelling and voice acting help drive the narrative to its conclusion. If you’re one of those people who enjoys games for their narratives, you should definitely consider giving Tacoma a chance to impress.
The Bottom Line