Fullbright’s followup to 2013’s Gone Home is similarly focused on narrative, but it presents it in an innovative way that thinks outside the audio-log and written-note box. This novel approach to narration has players see holographic re-enactments of events in 3D space, a leap above hearing audio log entries or reading journals. Despite this unique take on narrative, Tacoma is mostly uninteresting. It has a simple structure to explore and a routine storyline. There are some interesting twists at the end but these do not make the game more rewarding.
You play as Amitjyati Ferrier, a subcontractor for Venturis Technologies, as she is sent on a mission to recover an AI from the abandoned Tacoma space station. While there, you equip AR hardware called ARdware. It is a holographic desktop – a menu in front of you in the air. From this you may view your characters’ ID, credentials for your mission, a map of the Tacoma station, and emails and messages from the crew members. This also plays back the holographic recordings of the crew members.
The Tacoma space station uses an AR recording system that captures the crew’s actions. Players experience re-enactments of happenings on the Tacoma space station through these holographic recordings that depict the crew members as they moved around and spoke with one another. These sequences are easily played and replayed. For some scenes two or more conversations are happening at once, so to hear the full story you’ll need to play the recording a few times from different points.
Tacoma also has emails you read and, like Gone Home, items you can pick up and examine, but the crux of the game’s narrative pockets are these holographic re-enactments. They do what audio logs and journal entries don’t – let the player see events as they transpired. (An appropriate comparison is if System Shock 2 or Bioshock only used the ghost-like character segments to tell the story.)
There were six crew members on the Tacoma and, through the AR re-enactments, you experience their dialogue, relationships and personal lives. The problem is that Tacoma’s oxygen tanks ruptured and external communications lost due to a collision with debris. The crew has a limited amount of time to live and their peril as they face this crisis is the crux of the story.
There is a Data Access Point in each of the four decks that you insert a device into so that you can recover a fragment of the onboard AI. Each recovery process takes a chunk of time. These are the moments you should explore each deck, playback the AR recordings, read messages, and pick up and examine objects. Once the AI retrieval for any given deck is complete, you may proceed on to the next. Once you reach the final deck you extract the AI “wet ware” along with the final data piece and may then leave the station.
The story is mostly uninteresting. The meat of the game is watching the AR recordings, but these are not very compelling. One lengthy recording is only of a crew member playing a guitar. Others involve standard melodrama. There are some intriguing twists near the end, but for the most part there’s nothing extraordinary: it’s an oxygen loss with communications down in a space station, and otherwise there’s standard romantic relationship stories or the dad with a kid back home and so forth. Even the twists at the end are not especially mind-blowing or unique, and they weren’t rewarding but came as surprises plopped down out of nowhere.
The gameplay is shallow and simple. You move around the Tacoma station and there are no puzzles or substantial interactions with the environment. The Tacoma station is small and very simple to navigate. Each deck is neatly divided and you proceed from one to the next in step-by-step sequence. There is no great sense of exploration or discovery; it is very much a guided experience.
Tacoma has a novel concept and a story with some interesting twists late in the game, but the design is simple and the story bland. Whether you pay full price for it depends on how interested you are in narrative-only games and how much you enjoyed Gone Home. I check out on both those counts, but still found Tacoma underwhelming. As an enthusiast for first-person narrative-driven games I recommend Tacoma as a novelty, but I can’t recommend it to anyone looking for a new game to play. You will likely be unsatisfied.
Final review score is out of 10.