Release Date: August 2nd, 2017
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox One
Tacoma sees developer Fullbright take on their next mission with a title following their big hit Gone Home, which captured the minds, hearts, and feelings of players around the world back in 2013 on PC before being ported to consoles just last year. Though Tacoma has a lot of similarities to Gone Home, it shouldn't be seen as such just because it's the same developer. Traits carry over, but despite that, the overall atmosphere, premise, and execution is very different from what players had to go through with Gone Home. There will still be tons of emotional value and context provided in the game, with a diverse cast to help bring the narrative to life, and as the player explores the ship of Tacoma, they will uncover the secrets within and all the events that have transpired since the ship has taken off and the people on board had joined the crew.
Tacoma puts you in the shoes of Amy Ferrier, a contractor who's been sent to investigate the events and disappearance of those aboard the space station in the year 2088. With the use of advanced AI and 3D capturing, players will be able to see and hear recordings of all that's happened at various points of the ship and crew's time there, and in doing so uncovering the course of events that have transpired and to make sense of it all to complete your mission. It doesn't take long to realize that Tacoma isn't just another Gone Home – it's far from it. As previously stated, there are similarities, yes, but this is a very different game in the way that it feels, progresses, portrays, and plays. You'll be navigating the ship by going into different chambers of the station such as Biomedical, Engineering, and the like to uncover everything that's happened. Upon entering these chambers, you'll ride along an elevator-like transportation system that essentially counts as loading in between the levels. It's a unique way to load the layouts of each section without taking the player out of their playthrough, though sometimes these sections can take rather long, much like the initial boot up time. When you select either New Game or Continue, the initial loading before you're dropped in can take a ridiculously long time. We're talking well over a minute, sometimes creeping upon two minutes. Once you're in, however, it's smooth sailing from there, but it really makes you wonder what in the world is taking so long. Another odd thing that may not bother most players is that despite having a character model in between stations, once you step off and look back down and around, your model is gone. Why have it show up in certain situations is an odd design choice to me, but again, it's nothing that ruins the experience. Just something some people may notice that pay almost too much attention to detail.
Once you get into the meat of things, the gameplay is rather simple as you'll basically be walking around waiting for your data tablet to download and collect information, and while doing so checking out the quarters in each respective location to find audio samples accompanied by holograms recreating a certain moment in time on the ship. You can rewind, pause, and fast-forward at free will. Personally, I listened and watched every single recording from beginning to end and sometimes even replayed due to how interesting I found them. Though you never truly see how the characters look except for a few photos found around the crew quarters and their messages that you can access via AR Desktops - windows of information that will pop up during sequences that you can look at and check out messages, emails, and other things during that time - thanks to their personalities and performances, they feel like people you could easily put a face on and get to know. It's a creative way to ultimately build character and personality through a voice, using sound as your guide to interpret rather than relying on and taking things at face value and "judging a book by its cover"; and with the great diverse cast of characters Tacoma surrounds itself with, it's a fantastic and respectful way to make things inclusive and eclectic without feeling too much like it's being forced or going overboard for the sake of appealing to (and possibly alienating) a demographic.
There are some instances, though I don't recall a time it was absolutely crucial, that the player will grab certain key items and bring them to another location to access rooms, boxes, drawers, etc. to find mementos that help delve into the lore and characters further. Though this was few and far between, there'd be times where I wanted to accomplish multiple tasks at once and realized that there wasn't an inventory system. I didn't necessarily need much, but even something like three boxes either in the lower left corner or in my personal AR Desktop would be nice. Just like the other issues Tacoma faces, however, it's not anything that ruins the game -- it's just simple quality of life stuff that I would have liked to see implemented. There's also an issue when you throw items there's a terrible choppy animation that happens. The game runs incredibly smooth from beginning to end with no hiccups, so to see that one thing be choppy is odd. It's only the item, too, as it doesn't impact the game at all.
Being such a story-driven game, there's not much I can go into without stepping into spoiler territory, and I rather not mention too much of it either as the sense of mystery when you first walk in, to the moment you reach the end of the game with all the information you were looking for (assuming you take the time to read all notes, messages, etc. and watch/listen to the recordings), it all comes together as a whole and feels like a great sci-fi novel by the end of it all. The length and pacing of the game is perfect, and there's just enough to catch your attention by the time you feel like it's time to go back to the main lobby of each section of Tacoma to retrieve your tablet of data to move onto whatever you're looking for next. The overall presentation and progression of the game felt natural and intuitive, which I think was a big step from Gone Home where at times I felt like I didn't know what to do or uncover next, sometimes feeling like it was a puzzler in disguise.
I've always been a fan of walking simulators, and ones that have a rich narrative that can be explored even well after the completion of the game and make you think tend to stick with me and remain memorable. It's why Fullbright's previous venture, Gone Home, meant so much to me. It's why games like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Dear Esther, Blackwood Crossing, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, and others like it have this piece that lingers on with you and make you want to play them over, to see if there was anything more to uncover that you may have missed the first time around, or even simply because you want to be put back into that world. Fullbright has undoubtedly proved once again that they have an unprecedented talent for storytelling that makes their games worth not only playing, but exploring and investing time into. You're there emotionally as things start to naturally reveal themselves the more time you put into it. It feels rewarding, and with its perfect length of about 4 hours in your initial playthrough - assuming you're checking out every nook and cranny - the incredible value Tacoma leaves you with by the end is almost like when you reach that final page, and inevitably the final word to a book that's been a great read. You close the book, lay it down, and are left to your thoughts as you say "wow" and delve into it further in your thoughts. I've played a ton of great games this year that I've been utterly excited for, pleasantly surprised on, and have had the honor to review, but only a select few I can remember the names of characters and their backgrounds for. Tacoma I know will stick with me for a very long time, much like Gone Home did, thanks to its well-designed space station, narrative, and characters that I felt like I got to know by the end of the game, cheering them on as they faced the perils of life in space and the limited possibilities when issues arise. Those with any interest in mysteries, walking sims, or even adventures (an affinity for space helps too) would be smart to add Tacoma to their collection on their platform of choice. This is a great weekend title that will be sure to please those into science fiction as well as supporting Indie devs and the great work they do. Tacoma is a worthy successor from Fullbright that not only takes us beyond our humble abode, but Earth and into the cosmos.
- A well rounded ship that isn't too big and not too small. Feels like there's the perfect amount to explore and uncover given the length and the narrative of the game.
- Looking outside from time to time and seeing parts of the ship rotate as well as the stars beyond (and sometimes Earth) became the new "stopping to smell the roses" for me. As someone who has a deep love for space, I was always taken aback by the sights, and even the lighting that occurred when our sun would come into view.
- The protagonist, Amy, and all the characters you encounter through their holograms and audio clips are likeable, eclectic, and unique, each given their own personality that resonates and feels real.
- Fluid and solid performance throughout. Little to no hiccups from a technical perspective.
- Though the game never really requires you to carry much, if anything at all depending on how you play, the lack of an inventory and inability to carry only one item at a time would get annoying when trying to accomplish certain tasks
- Despite being able to see the character model in between station transportation, once you step off of the elevator-like contraption, once you look down the model is gone. Seems like a weird design choice, but that's just me.
A huge thank you to Fullbright for sending a copy of Tacoma for review!