A vis­ual novel of sorts


GAX (Malaysia) - - TEST - By Ade Pu­tra

Ex­plor­ing the rooms and cor­ri­dors of the tit­u­lar Ta­coma space sta­tion feels fa­mil­iar. There aren’t that many ‘walk­ing sim­u­la­tors’ out there, which makes a com­par­i­son to Full­bright’s pre­vi­ous work in­evitable. Where Gone Home re­turns play­ers to the 90’s, Ta­coma trans­ports us to a plau­si­ble near fu­ture.

Ta­coma be­longs to a grow­ing genre of first-per­son ad­ven­tures that em­pha­size nar­ra­tive and ex­plo­ration. They’re the queens of en­vi­ron­men­tal sto­ry­telling, tar­geted at those who scan ev­ery nook and cranny not for col­lectibles, but for lore. En­joyed read­ing all those let­ters and books in Skyrim? This is for you. Just be aware that the en­tire premise is di­vorced from tra­di­tional gam­ing me­chan­ics, so they’re closer in spirit to vis­ual nov­els than RPGs.

As sub-con­trac­tor Amy Fer­rier, we’re tasked with board­ing the Ta­coma to re­trieve both the data and phys­i­cal wet­ware of ODIN, the sta­tion’s AI. Upon dock­ing – and wist­fully part­ing with our ship – we soon equip a pair of aug­mented re­al­ity wear­ables that in­ter­face di­rectly with the sta­tion. It’s a cool show­case for AR, al­low­ing Amy to regis­ter com­mands via sign lan­guage and hand ges­tures. On the flip side, it also lets head­quar­ters record and mon­i­tor all crew ac­tiv­ity, even pri­vate and in­ti­mate mo­ments. While wait­ing for her data trans­fers to com­plete, Amy uses this stored AR in­for­ma­tion to recre­ate scenes prior to her ar­rival.

Just what was this Ob­so­les­cence Day party, any­way? This idle cu­rios­ity quickly re­veals why the sta­tion is empty, set­ting the stage for the time-hon­ored tale of hu­man de­ter­mi­na­tion in the face of ad­ver­sity. In this case, the for­mer crew of six must place their trust in one an­other if they are to sur­vive a disas­ter.

Now, let me point out that Ta­coma does not break sci-fi tropes, nor is it free from a pre­dictable end­ing – play­ing with es­tab­lished set­tings seems to be

some­thing Full­bright en­joys. And while it raises the same ques­tions of AI ethics and Or­wellian cor­po­ra­tions, it doesn’t set out to ad­dress them. Rather, what you’ll find here is a truly di­verse cast of char­ac­ters that are, again, rooted in au­then­tic­ity. It’s their sto­ries that take cen­ter stage, their fears, re­la­tion­ships, and their re­solve, not the event sur­round­ing them.

To tackle the larger drama­tis per­sonae, we can rewind and fast-for­ward the dif­fer­ent AR scenes Amy en­coun­ters. This lets us fol­low and eaves­drop on all the crew, even when they’re apart, adding con­text to their thoughts and ac­tions. It’s sur­pris­ingly ef­fec­tive, giv­ing us sep­a­rate per­spec­tives with­out hav­ing to re­play the story or reload save files, as one typ­i­cally would. The scenes them­selves aren’t long ei­ther, usu­ally two min­utes at the most, sup­ple­mented by peeks at any open AR desk­tops to read chat logs and mails – it’s the fu­ture equiv­a­lent of peep­ing at some­one’s phone.

Ta­coma pairs that with some good char­ac­ter an­i­ma­tion. De­spite the com­plete lack of fa­cial fea­tures, we can still tell a lot from the way the char­ac­ters act and re­act. Grip­ping a handrail for sup­port, slowly pac­ing a room, dis­tantly look­ing out a win­dow – they help frame a char­ac­ter’s emo­tions just as well as the voice act­ing, so it’d be silly to call this a low-bud­get pro­duc­tion. More than any other genre, im­mer­sion is vi­tal. Be it a let­ter from home hid­den in a drawer, diet and ex­er­cise goals re­flected in lock­ers, or the choice of mu­sic waft­ing from speak­ers, there is plenty of nuance planted aboard the lu­nar space sta­tion. Even learn­ing how some­one still prefers a reg­u­lar tooth­brush wound up be­ing a fun lit­tle dis­cov­ery. There is a nag­ging sense of vi­o­la­tion as one ri­fles through per­sonal ef­fects but Ta­coma in­cen­tivizes this ex­plo­ration. We can spy on code com­bi­na­tions be­ing punched in and un­cover stashed keys, all of which are op­tional, but lead to in­ter­est­ing back­ground in­for­ma­tion.

How­ever, what is with­out ques­tion is that Ta­coma doesn’t en­gage us the way Gone Home does. It can’t. Here, we’re merely an ob­server aboard a cold space sta­tion, not a fam­ily mem­ber re­turn­ing home. While I don’t see this as a strike, it’ll cer­tainly dis­ap­point those swayed by Full­bright’s ear­lier ti­tle.

There’s also the fact that the Ta­coma runs for only ap­prox­i­mately three hours. It’s an ideal length for the story they want to tell, while also pre­vent­ing the whole AR me­chanic from get­ting stale. So when it comes down to “Is this worth buy­ing?”, it’s sim­ply a ques­tion of what you value most out of your en­ter­tain­ment – long hours of deep game­play, or a brief, cap­ti­vat­ing story.

CON­CLU­SION Ta­coma is a fine ex­am­ple of the pos­si­bil­i­ties in in­ter­ac­tive fic­tion.

There’s no run­ning and gun­ning here. You’re merely an ob­server, piec­ing to­gether the story through AR play­back.

Aug­mented re­al­ity wear­able is a vi­tal game­play com­po­nent to move the story along.

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