DEVELOPER Fullbright / PUBLISHER Fullbright / WEBSITE https://tacoma.game
T he cargo relay station Tacoma floats between the earth and the moon, silent, dark and empty. Its crew of six people evacuated the station three days ago, although the method and reason behind that evacuation remains shrouded in mystery. You are Amy Ferrier, a subcontractor of the Venturis corporation, which owns Tacoma alongside several inner-system holiday resorts to which Tacoma ferries cargo. You’re tasked with retrieving Tacoma’s on-board AI, named Odin, from the station’s servers. Yet while the station might be devoid of life, ghosts wander its corridors.
As with Fullbright’s Gone Home, Tacoma begins with a subversion. It’s a typical sci-fi disaster scenario, but what transpires is a much gentler and more human story than Tacoma initially suggests, albeit one with more of a sting in its tail than Fullbright’s previous work.
Tacoma is also much more adept at both telling its story and involving the player than Gone Home. All the stepping stones of video game storytelling are still present; audio logs, environmental detailing, notes and documents are scattered on desks and pinned on walls. But Tacoma adds another layer that brings the characters to life and lets the player walk among them.
In addition to its bespoke AI, the Tacoma station is equipped with an augmented reality system that lets the station’s crew access various station services, emails, maps, calls and so on, from an augmented reality display. However, this system also tracks and records the movements and conversations of the crew. As Amy, you can play back these recordings at various points in the station, and rewind or fast-forward them.
The bulk of Tacoma’s story is told through these recordings, and this system works brilliantly, as it lets you become much better acquainted with the characters on the station. Although the recordings only visualise the crew as monochrome holograms, you get a palpable sense of each
90%OVERALL SCORE / VERDICT A gorgeous setting, well told story, and innovative approach to narrative make Tacoma a cracking exercise in virtual storytelling.
individual – each voice, personality and even body shape is dramatically different, making them easy to identify at a glance, but without caricaturing them.
What’s more, these playable extracts from the crew’s lives aren’t staged like a film or play. The characters walk around the environments as they talk, splitting off in different directions, seeking out solitude in the station’s many cubbyholes and relaying information between each other. Consequently, there are often several different events happening at once. Not only does this setup make the character interactions feel more natural, but it also brings your ability to rewind and fast-forward the recordings into the game, so you can explore all the different conversations each scene offers.
Lastly, the system provides a light puzzling element. For example, many doors are locked and encoded, but you can watch the holograms input these codes and then do so yourself. It’s only a light sprinkling, though, marking one area where the potential of Tacoma’s interactive storytelling goes underused.
The characters are also beautifully written, with Fullbright drawing heavily from different cultures and lifestyles to bring together a varied motley crew. One favourite is Natali, the diminutive yet fiery network specialist who created the station’s AI, and whose relationship with the station’s maintenance operative Roberta is the centre of many of the game’s more touching moments. However, all the characters have quirks and backstories that stand out, from botanist Andrew’s strained relationship with his husband and son, to Dr Sareh’s curious obsession with a social media superstar.
A hard sci-fi shell surrounds this soft, emotional core. Tacoma’s broader themes deal with powerful megacorporations gambling over interplanetary real estate, using human lives as chips. Meanwhile, a secondary thread concerns the value of artificial life, and when an AI deserves the same rights as humans. It’s basically cyberpunk-light, lacking the criminal hackers and mirror-shaded assassins of William Gibson’s finest work, but possessing the same rebellious spirit.
The Tacoma station itself also matches the story’s rich and multi-layered flavour. Fullbright’s vision of the future mixes the sleek and functional with the quaint and comfortable, with curved lines and Apple-esque electronic displays. The station is shaped like a wheel axle, with multiple loops spinning around a central hub. This hub is Zero-G, allowing you to float to different sections of the station, where the centrifugal forces simulate gravity.
But Tacoma is also a place that feels exquisitely inhabited. The Tacoma crew members are creative and untidy, painting murals on the walls and leaving leftovers from last night’s party scattered about their living quarters. These objects are more than environmental detailing; they add texture to the story. Natali’s living quarters, for example, are used as a storage room because she bunks with Roberta, while the locker of the calm and quiet Dr Sareh is a shrine to female bodybuilding.
There’s a lot to celebrate about Tacoma, but there’s a few little flaws. For example, the story’s late plot twist is a little predictable. It’s well constructed, but less subtle than the rest of the game. Also, the whole game clocks in at no more than two hours. Those two hours are enjoyable, but Tacoma isn’t for anyone looking for a time sink.
Overall, though, Tacoma is a fantastic fusion of big sci-fi ideas and little human dramas, told in an inventive and interactive manner, and wrapped up in a delightfully broken-in vision of the future.