If the walls could talk, what a story they’d tell. If you looked at Fullbright’s lonely, often eerie debut with Gone Home as a revolution in first-person storytelling, then there’s a lot to like about their long in development sequel, Tacoma. A drastic shift in tone doesn’t derail a captivating story and unique storytelling mechanics, which again put you as the player in control of the pace, direction and minute details of the short-lived tale. It’s an engrossing adventure with a big pay off, even if it doesn’t feel as revolutionary anymore.
Tacoma quickly but confusingly tries to establish its premise from the get go. You play as Amy Ferrier – a lone space farer spent to the space station Tacoma to investigate a critical malfunction on-board. It’s assumed that the limited crew is dead, leaving you to piece together what happened aboard and retrieve a crucial bank of information – the space station’s central AI, Odin. The silent walkways burst with life thanks to augmented-reality, letting you re-live the final moments of Tacoma and its crew. And figure out just what might have caused such a tragedy.
Tacoma’s world-building might seem clumsy at first – throwing emails, transmissions and news snippets at you with a disregard for your understanding of the many names they contain. Industries are rushing space, with two large corporations vying for financial and public control of consumers on a new frontier. Scrubbing through these politics with little context makes the first few moments of exploration a slow burn. The initial feeling of not understanding the context of the many conversations you’re privy to.
And there are many. Tacoma’s central hook has you guiding your story through eavesdropping – at least on the crew from previous recordings. Main areas let you reconstruct and play back lengthy segments of activity that took place in the rooms around you, with Tacoma’s crew projected via colourful, full-bodied holograms. They interact with each other while fulfilling their specific duties around the station, neatly indicated by their colour-coded representations. It’s easy to keep track of who you’re listening to, thanks both to the varied voice-acting and the limited number of voices you need to keep track of from one encounter to the next.
But instead of simply listening to their stories, Ferreira takes an active part in building their narrative. The open spaces have crew members splitting up and re-grouping, forcing you to follow in different directions to keep up with the conversation. Being able to rewind and scrub through recovered recordings, then, comes in handy. You’re free to follow one string of the conversation to completion, and then wind everything back to follow another thread. The way each conversation builds on the last is exemplary but also makes for a great way to see the differences between personalities when in full view of others and when hidden behind closed doors.
The crew quickly progresses from a lightly bickering, joyous band of co-workers to scrappy survivalists, each with their own thoughts on rescue, hope and love. Sharing a comforting moment between two characters when they succumb to their fate is offset by the emotional trauma a medical specialist feels when confronting her inability to help everyone around her. Each crew member has a distinct personality that shines through with each passing encounter, and making empathising with their individual situations easy.
Individual back stories help inject more life into the world around you, while also humanising these blobs of ones and zeroes in a way that might feel surprising. Items and trinkets are strewn across the stations echoing hallways, and with an attention to detail that just begs you to take closer looks. Inspection brings with it its own rewards, fleshing out some of the encompassing events that envelop the grand picture outside of Tacoma’s walls. And as the little questions, you ask yourself start being answered, Tacoma’s larger message starts becoming a more interesting thread to let your imagination follow.
Suffice to say, it’s hard talking about just what types of messages Tacoma is trying to convey without spoiling the entire thing, but rest assured that it’s likely not in the direction that you might expect from its opening moments. Just as Gone Home was far more than simply traversing through an empty home, Tacoma’s sci-fi setting and dabbling with its specific tropes extend beyond your simplest expectations, setting up a superb ending that casts certain personas in a light that is not often explored in media.
It’s a slight shame then that the start takes it time eventually getting to that point. Even its rigid structure shuffles you from one room to the next in the pursuit of more breadcrumbs to follow, but it’s only in its more dire moments where it truly starts to shine. There’s something to be said about the effect resting on a successful setup, but it’s hard not wishing that more of Tacoma consisted of the exciting final moments and less of the more mundane opening ones.
But it’s just a minor blip on an otherwise great tale, which should take you anywhere from 3 hours or more to finish. There’s certainly more in Tacoma’s halls that might have begged for discovery, but its tale is singular in nature. There’s no urge to go back and revisit it after the credits have rolled, but the consolation is a story that should stick with you well beyond its closing. Fullbright set the standard nearly fours years ago, and they’ve shown that the long wait certainly hasn’t been for nothing.
Last Updated: August 1, 2017
Tacoma is a captivating tale that messes with established tropes in a way that Fullbright might become known for. Although it spins its wheels at the start, this slow and methodical journey through the lives of a small group survivors is one with some fantastic twists and turns, and one that should stick with you long after its conclusion.