Characters will pull up their personal desktops during a recording, which you can access to see what they were looking at. I catch one crew member reading a trashy crime novel about an orbital casino heist while waiting for someone to get off the phone. Elsewhere, a woman discusses her troubled relationship with an online therapist, and a man chases high scores in an AR videogame. There are a lot of jokes buried in these optional desktops as well, and it’s worth noting that Tacoma has a mischievous sense of humor that loosens it up and prevents it from ever becoming too saccharine or earnest.
The first hour is pretty sedate, giving you space to observe and get to know Tacoma’s crew. But then, suddenly, an accident leaves the residents of the station in a dire situation, and the rest of the game focuses on their attempts to deal with it. Seeing how each person copes with the stress of what’s happening is where some of the best drama emerges. It’s tense, fraught, and often heartbreaking. But the shift from watching people making cakes and playing pool to fighting for their lives is a little abrupt, and I would have enjoyed spending more time with the crew in happier times before the incident.
A grander narrative begins to emerge as you journey deeper into the station, and it becomes about much more than the six people who lived there. Themes confidently tackled include the rights of sentient artificial intelligence and corporate versus human interest, which gives the story a very ’70s feel. It’s dark, thoughtful science fiction, dwelling on the perils and ethics of advanced technology and space colonization. But while a lot of science fiction from that era has a cold, nihilistic view of mankind’s place in the universe, Tacoma has a heart. The crew are the soul of the game, and even when things are falling to pieces, their innate humanity always shines through.
By the time the credits started rolling I’d grown genuinely attached to these six unique people. I spent so long reading their emails, snooping around in their living spaces, and eavesdropping on their many conversations that I felt like I knew each of them. And that made saying goodbye particularly difficult. I missed them so much, in fact, that I immediately started a second playthrough. And there was unexpected value in that, because things I learned in my first run brought new context to certain events and conversations the second time around. There’s a lot going on in Tacoma, much of it subtle, hidden away, waiting to be uncovered. And in that sense, as a game about piecing together a story, it’s immensely rewarding. I won’t forget my time aboard that station any time soon, or the people whose lives I got hopelessly tangled up in while I was there.
You get the sense that this is a functioning place and not just a movie set