Ta­coma PC, Xbox One

A non­lin­ear time­line means the ac­tion, if you can call it that, never builds as you’d like it to

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher The Full­bright Com­pany For­mat PC (tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

Cor, those lifts look fun. Sim­ply grab on to a han­dle, put one foot in a pedal and you’re away, whisked au­to­mat­i­cally at high speed from the zero-grav­ity hub of the Ta­coma Lu­nar Ob­ser­va­tion Sys­tem to one of its de­part­ments. To botany, you say? We’ll be there in a jiffy. Cryo­gen­ics needs our at­ten­tion? Close your eyes and count to ten. In­ter­de­part­men­tal tran­si­tion has never been so fun.

If, say, the Ta­coma needed an of­fice de­liv­ery boy, we’d be all over it. But the sta­tion is staffed by just six peo­ple, all brought on to per­form a spe­cific, and es­sen­tial, role. Most, how­ever, have also taken on some, well, ex­tracur­ric­u­lar du­ties. Sta­tion ad­min­is­tra­tor EV St James is cou­pled up with op­er­a­tions spe­cial­ist Clive Sid­diqi – their pil­low talk must be an ab­so­lute hoot – while en­gi­neer Roberta Wil­liams and net­work ex­pert Natali Kuroshenko are also an item. The two re­main­ing wall­flow­ers are firm friends, though it’s seem­ingly gone no fur­ther than that. The botanist, An­drew Dagyab, is too pre­oc­cu­pied with some­how sav­ing his ail­ing marriage while stuck high in the sky; Sareh Has­madi, the doc­tor, has never been the same since suf­fer­ing a pro­fes­sional in­jus­tice ear­lier in her ca­reer.

They’re a di­verse bunch, then – or rather, they were, since by the time we meet them, they’re all gone. Like de­vel­oper Full­bright’s first game, the walk­ing-sim-cum1990s-love-let­ter Gone Home, Ta­coma puts you in the shoes of a fe­male pro­tag­o­nist – this time named Amy Fer­rier – ar­riv­ing in a mys­te­ri­ously empty place. Yet in­stead of a home, it’s a space sta­tion, and in­stead of pick­ing through the bric-a-brac of sub­ur­ban Amer­i­can life, you’re comb­ing through AR logs that re­play scenes from the crew’s fi­nal hours.

Fer­rier may be our walk­ing win­dow onto this sci-fi world, but it be­comes quickly ap­par­ent that she is not the fo­cal point of Ta­coma’s tale. That hon­our goes to Odin, an au­ton­o­mous AI which is, de­spite St James’ no­tional po­si­tion of power among the team, the real cap­tain of the ship. While this float­ing polyg­o­nal pres­ence is by turns a sound­ing board, a con­fi­dant and an ally to the ship’s staff, it’s clear Odin is the one who wears the vir­tual trousers. It feeds back di­rectly to, and takes or­ders di­rectly from, the Ven­turis cor­po­ra­tion that’s run­ning the show on Earth.

That is, in it­self, an in­trigu­ing enough setup. And when, as Fer­rier, you first board the aban­doned Ta­coma and are im­me­di­ately told to gather all archived crew data be­fore re­triev­ing Odin’s cen­tral AI core, you as­sume the worst: that it has gone rogue some­how, and you are about to stum­ble upon some­thing grue­some.

Gone Home played a sim­i­lar trick, but took a lot longer to show its true hand. Af­ter a short hop on of those ex­cel­lent lifts, you’re in the Ad­min­is­tra­tion depart­ment. You watch an AR play­back of the crew cel­e­brat­ing Ob­so­les­cence Day, a party for Ven­turis staff to mark the

CHOPPED LOGS

Gone Home’s at­mos­phere was in part driven by its level fur­ni­ture, its hand-writ­ten VHS la­bels and old fam­ily photos mak­ing its world feel nat­u­ral, rich and vivid, adding some nos­tal­gic weight to its cen­tral tale. In Ta­coma you’ll stum­ble across a heav­ily cor­rupted AR ar­chive, typ­i­cally show­ing a crew­mate spend­ing some time on their own: show­er­ing, drink­ing, play­ing a game. None tells you much about the char­ac­ter in ques­tion – we would, we ex­pect, do all of those things if we spent a year on a space sta­tion. Else­where, while there’s plenty of stuff to pick up, it serves lit­tle pur­pose. Un­less you’d be sur­prised to learn that long-life pack­aged food is some­thing of a sta­ple when you’re spend­ing years in lu­nar or­bit, any­way. day when leg­is­la­tion, that would bring au­to­ma­tion into the work­force at un­prece­dented scale, was struck down. Yet the party is in­ter­rupted by Odin. Or­bital de­bris has dam­aged the Ta­coma’s oxy­gen and com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems. In 50 hours, the air sup­ply will run out – and there’s no way of call­ing for help. We’ll leave the story de­tails there, of course, and not just be­cause we aren’t the sorts to spoil. It’s be­cause story is pretty much all Ta­coma has. Your in­ter­ac­tions while watch­ing these AR logs are min­i­mal: you can skip back and forth through the time­line with the bumpers, pause the ac­tion, and snoop in on a crew mem­ber’s AR desk­top when they call it up. Op­por­tu­ni­ties for the lat­ter are plainly sig­nalled on the time­line with a grey ques­tion mark that changes colour as the time­line passes over it. It’s in these over­laid desk­tops that the story is fleshed out, through a blend of par­tially cor­rupted news re­ports, email ex­changes with peo­ple back on Earth, and chat­logs be­tween crew mem­bers. Find all the AR ar­chives in each sec­tion, and the up­load com­pletes, be­fore Fer­rier’s Ven­turis pay­mas­ters mes­sage her to tell her which area to move onto next.

We don’t ex­pect a game like this to be dif­fi­cult, but af­ter What Re­mains Of Edith Finch’s smart rewrit­ing of the nar­ra­tive-ad­ven­ture rule­book, prov­ing that me­chan­i­cal va­ri­ety need not be sac­ri­ficed at the al­tar of putting story first, Ta­coma strug­gles to keep you in­volved in pro­ceed­ings. Full­bright uses Fer­rier’s AR gear as an ex­cuse for some ter­ri­bly blunt sign­post­ing, in one late ex­am­ple lit­er­ally pro­ject­ing her name and a green ar­row onto a wall to show us where to head next. Oc­ca­sion­ally you’ll come across a locked door, but the ac­cess code is never far away, and if you can’t track it down you can just look over a crew­mate’s AR shoul­der as they un­lock it. For the most part you’re sim­ply walk­ing, lis­ten­ing, and read­ing – and there’s lit­tle re­ward for pok­ing around.

All of that is un­der­stand­able, if not quite for­giv­able, given Full­bright’s fo­cus on nar­ra­tive and the change of set­ting from Ta­coma’s pre­de­ces­sor. Yet the story it­self doesn’t jus­tify the short­com­ings found else­where; in­deed, Ta­coma’s tale has a few of its own. The 50-hour dead­line should, you’d think, cre­ate a cer­tain ten­sion, but a non­lin­ear time­line means the ac­tion, if you can call it that, never builds as you’d like it to. The real story isn’t hard to see com­ing, and the pay­off, when it ar­rives, is over in a flash – a mic drop the pre­ced­ing few hours didn’t quite do enough to de­serve. There is magic here: in the like­able, be­liev­able cast, for in­stance, and the way partly cor­rupted doc­u­ments dis­pense nuggets of nar­ra­tive progress while still leav­ing in­trigu­ing dan­gling threads. It is won­der­fully writ­ten, its world lived-in and vivid. It meets our ex­pec­ta­tions of a Full­bright game, but sadly leaves it at that. 7

LEFT When not eaves­drop­ping, there’s plenty to do around the Ta­coma, though lit­tle of it mat­ters. Clos­ing and open­ing shut­ters can only en­ter­tain you for so long.

MAIN The open­ing sec­tion is one of very few times you see the en­tire crew to­gether. Af­ter that they mostly op­er­ate in small groups, or sim­ply by them­selves.

BOT­TOM The crew’s AR desk­tops yield of­ten sur­pris­ing re­sults. This links back to a darker time in the ship’s doc­tor’s ca­reer; else­where you’ll find that an­other wants to buy her­self a body pil­low with her favourite pop star printed on it

ABOVE De­spite the crew­mates ap­pear­ing as colour-coded, translu­cent AR out­lines, Full­bright man­ages to con­vey sur­pris­ing ten­der­ness at times. It’s in­con­sis­tent, how­ever – one canoo­dle late on is an an ab­so­lute vis­ual mess

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