Minor story spoilers follow:
Tacoma is almost in lockstep with developer Fullbright’s previous indie darling, 2013’s Gone Home. Instead of exploring an empty house and interacting with its various contents to reveal the story, you’re on an empty space station doing the same.
You play as Amy Ferrier, an “AI Communications Specialist” who is tasked with recovering the ODIN AI from Tacoma station. Instead of meeting its fate from a sinister alien force or other sci-fi cliché, Tacoma station has suffered from a catastrophic oxygen leak. With the fate of its crew unknown to the player, you must explore each of Tacoma’s major sections to get answers.
Tacoma station is equipped with an augmented reality system that allows the player to see the crew in various prerecorded sessions. Each character is represented by a shimmering avatar that is vaguely in that person’s shape. You can rewind and fast forward these crew members as they walk through corridors and interact with each other, which makes for an interesting way of getting to know them. Each of Tacoma’s crew members are normal people and that makes them even more interesting. You will get to know them as you snoop through their things and read their e-mails trying to determine how all of the pieces fit together. There isn’t a secret ending to trigger or even a way to fail – as long as you keep going where the games tells you, you will succeed. The amount of the story that is revealed is determinant on the player’s curiosity.
Refreshingly, Tacoma doesn’t veer from being grounded. Mundane is a good description, but doesn’t do it justice. Instead of time travel, salivating aliens, or space madness this is a future filled with real people and how they dealt with a life threatening situation. It also touches a bit on AI, and our possible future relationship with them. Tacoma station itself is beautiful and a pleasure to navigate, and the world that is created is rich and fully realized. It’s just a shame that there is so little of it.
Tacoma is like getting a hors d’oeuvre without the main course. By the time I was fully immersed in the story, the great characters and the “mundane” sci-fi setting it was over. I was able to complete Tacoma in a little over two hours – and I tried my hardest to stay in that world as long as I could. I explored every nook, overheard every conversation, and read every scrap of paper I could find. Tacoma fit enough world building for an entire series into a two hour game – that’s impressive, but a bit of a shame.
Tacoma’s world and lore are detailed and its story refreshing in its banality. The future that is represented is believable with a few fresh ideas of its own. It’s a good game with a solid story and characters that felt real despite only being represented as translucent shapes. Tacoma succeeds as Fullbright’s follow-up to Gone Home, and I recommend it if you’re looking for more in the same vein. But its short running time and minimal gameplay isn’t for everyone. Tacoma is available now on Xbox One, Windows, Linux and Mac.