Tacoma (Review)

After enjoying my time a lot on Deliver Us The Moon I thought I’d try out a similar game in the genre, Fullbright’s Tacoma. The developer’s previous game Gone Home pretty much defined this style of narrative driven adventure (for better or worse) and after playing it through I’m glad to see it takes some good positive steps forward but I do wish it tried to go further. You play the role of Amy Ferrier, a contractor sent to the Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma to retrieve data and an AI module following an incident that resulted in the crew abandoning the station. Through the use of an AR recording system that captured moments of the crew’s lives Amy begins to piece together what happened at the time of the incident and how her employer is involved.

Playing Tacoma is all about searching every nook and cranny for clues to allow you to learn more and access more areas of the station. Items are scattered around which you can pick up to inspect and occasionally interact with. Movement is all first person and works well even in the weightless areas of the station and helps to prevent you from having too many navigation problems. The AR system that is a key part to the game is a genuinely cool way for the game to allow story bites to be reenacted without the use of detailed characters – avatars, identified by their colour and markings, are projected into the rooms of the station and you can scrub forward and backward (like a video file) through their actions while walking around. This often means having to gain access to locked areas to hear all a characters dialogue because they had walked into another room.

The story (think post sci-fi disaster movie) coupled with the AR system is the game’s real strength and makes it feel a lot more dynamic than the world really is. Being able to see parts of the story unfold in front of you goes a long way in making you feel like a part of the world, especially as it also encourages you to look around and see how the station fits together. It’s a very clever illusion that almost lasts the whole game until you ultimately realize there really isn’t any urgency in your work at all. There’s no danger of dying (at least in my time playing) and many of the objectives such as the data downloads that you need to complete at each station hub are done with very little involvement from you. The game is quite short and players could safely get through it in 2-3 hours even if they don’t try to complete all of the objectives/achievements. Replay value is hard to gauge as apart from achievement completion there’s a good chance you’ll uncover the bulk of the story in your first play through.

In terms of telling a story Tacoma succeeds really well in establishing its characters and the world around them but isn’t as effective in setting up the player’s own who is here only to push forward everyone else’s stories. I enjoyed it more than Gone Home thanks to the sci-fi trappings (the AR system is smartly used) but like that game I kept hoping to turn a corner and suddenly find that I was the one in danger or had a difficult challenge to overcome. I can understand that this approach was part of the game’s design but without that meaningful player agency I felt more like an observer in someone else’s adventure game and it takes away much of the impact I was hoping to get from it.

Tacoma is out now for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

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