Reviewed on: Xbox One
I had almost no idea what Tacoma was about prior to playing it. I’d watched the trailers and read a little bit about it but only garnered that it’s a walking-simulator style game set in space, and that it’s developed by the same team that created Gone Home, Fullbright Company. It’s certainly reminiscent of Gone Home, only set on a space station and with more dialogue. A lot more.
You play as Amy Ferrier, and the bulk of the gameplay has you reviewing augmented reality recordings of the diverse crew members of the Tacoma space station, and ODIN, the station’s AI, during the events surrounding an incident that has depleted the oxygen supply and left Tacoma abandoned. You follow these ghost-like recordings as they perform their tasks, converse with other members, and try to find a way to survive.
Each area of the space station has a different recording from a different time, most within a few days of your arrival. In the main gameplay areas, there will be multiple conversations between different crew as they move around the rooms, so you can follow one person for the duration of the recording, then rewind and follow another.
Because of this, Tacoma’s most impressive aspect is its complex dialogue structure, juggling conversational arcs like Game of Thrones juggles its narrative. Completely different conversations end at similar times so one character can walk into another room and start talking to a different crew member, while another will go and have an anxiety attack about something they’ve done. The amount of planning required to have all the crew members sync up like this is astounding. Voice acting is also on point, and Fullbright delivers some genuinely human moments with the faceless AR ghosts.
Like Gone Home, much of the narrative and backstory is uncovered by exploring the environment. There’s a lot of detail to the space station, from empty wine bags in the trash, news articles each of the crew reads, or the notes they have stashed in drawers. It gives the impression that Fullbright haven’t just created characters, but a world. You can even scan the QR codes on each crew members’ ID for more information about their country.
The narrative itself is quite standard, though the climax has a twist that works well due to its build-up through Tacoma’s world building. Unfortunately, it quickly falls flat as the conclusion feels rushed with multiple ‘aha’ moments in Tacoma’s final minutes that tie up everything a little too neatly. This leaves little to be gained from multiple playthroughs, unlike other walking simulators like Dear Esther or Life Is Strange with more open endings or choices.
And while the narrative was too simple, I also found the atmosphere of Tacoma a little misleading. There’s a slight horror vibe throughout the game: a lone person on a space station, ghost-like figures, a zero G area with creepy ambient sounds and lighting. It was like I was playing this year’s Prey, only without the combat or enemies. But it seems like the tone was like this just because it could be and I was disappointed when nothing eventuated.
I almost couldn’t start Tacoma due to some technical issues on the Xbox version. The game froze at the ‘Press A to Start’ screen until I updated the Store app, something that appears to be a Microsoft issue rather than Fullbright’s. I was also unable to walk up a ramp to access some side information, experienced some framerate drops, plus all the control tooltips were for the PC version of the game. Surely that was a simple fix?
Tacoma is a decent experience that falls short of its potential. Despite its run-of-the-mill narrative, a stronger ending would have left a memorable impression. This lets down the character development and world building, and means that rather than hold a stable orbit, Tacoma feels like its drifting away.