Ob­jects in space

PCPOWERPLAY - - Review -

De­vel­oper The Full­brighT Com­pany publisher The Full­brighT Com­pany price uS$ 20 AvAil­Able At STeam, iTCh. io, gog ta­coma.game

As a genre la­bel, “walk­ing sim­u­la­tor” is most of­ten used as a pe­jo­ra­tive, de­spite the best ef­forts of those fans who have sought to re­claim the phrase. I first heard it ap­plied to Dear Es­ther and thought it fit that game’s poignant stroll through the Scot­tish tun­dra, al­beit in an amus­ingly re­duc­tive way. The prob­lem with us­ing “walk­ing sim­u­la­tor” to de­scribe Fire­watch, Jaz­zpunk, Vir­ginia or Gone Home is that the walk­ing is the least in­ter­est­ing thing about them.

Ta­coma is the sec­ond game from Full­bright, the cre­ators of Gone Home. It’s sim­i­lar in some ways, but also shows the de­vel­oper is con­fi­dent enough to tackle some­thing more am­bi­tious.

As in Gone Home, you’re ex­plor­ing a mod­estly-sized en­vi­ron­ment - in this case a space sta­tion com­pris­ing half a dozen multi-roomed sec­tions. And, also like Gone Home, you’re try­ing to piece to­gether the events that oc­curred just be­fore you ar­rived - in this case what hap­pened to the six-per­son crew of the Ta­coma.

Where Gone Home trig­gered sim­ple au­dio di­aries spo­ken by the main char­ac­ter when you picked up a per­ti­nent ob­ject, Ta­coma opts for a far more elab­o­rate recre­ation. Ev­ery­thing aboard the sta­tion is recorded and able to be re­played us­ing sci-fi aug­mented re­al­ity tech. As you move from sec­tion to sec­tion you’ll wit­ness AR holo­grams of the crew run­ning through scenes that took place days ear­lier. You’ll see them walk­ing about, per­form­ing their du­ties, talk­ing with each other, or some­times just chill­ing out. You can pause and rewind to see what that

like you’re watch­ing a play, ex­cept you’re up on the stage min­gling with the ac­tors

crew mem­ber was do­ing ear­lier be­fore en­ter­ing the room.

Typ­i­cally in games like this you’re made to feel like an ar­chae­ol­o­gist, dig­ging up dig­i­tal re­mains to study the past. With Ta­coma, how­ever, I feel like a dif­fer­ent metaphor is war­ranted.

Here it feels like you’re watch­ing a play, ex­cept you’re up on the stage min­gling with the ac­tors and fol­low­ing them around, even if you can’t in­ter­rupt their lines. You can, how­ever, pick up and ex­am­ine a host of ob­jects, ri­fle through desks and draw­ers, and even in­ter­act with the AR desk­tops of each crew mem­ber to read some of their re­cent emails or lis­ten in on re­cent calls.

It all adds up to a re­mark­ably ef­fec­tive way of telling a story. The crew mem­bers tran­scend their bright­ly­coloured holo­gram de­pic­tions and be­come what feel like real peo­ple. Thanks to the qual­ity of the writ­ing, you’ll un­der­stand each per­son’s his­tory, their mo­ti­va­tions, their fears, and their re­la­tion­ships to each other, in a way that few games man­age.

You don’t do a lot in Ta­coma, at least in a con­ser­va­tive game­play verb sense. You walk around and pick things up and that’s about it. In­stead, what you do in Ta­coma is ob­serve and think and con­nect the non-lin­ear dots of its lay­ered story. And you care about and em­pathise with and root for the six peo­ple who were there be­fore you. DAVID WILDGOOSE

In a more en­light­ened fu­ture, no one fought over whose holo­gram was go­ing to be Mr Pink.

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