Tacoma has some pretty large shoes to fill. Does it rise to the occasion and live up its predecessor?Steve Gaynor and the folks at Fullbright came out swinging in 2013 with Gone Home. The little indie was solemn, and carried a nostalgic and melancholic je ne sais quoi. It was an experience unlike any other, where players could see themselves in every scene. The key to its success was its environment, which cleverly used household items to tell a heartfelt tale. But it didn’t sit quite right with certain players, who sneered and mocked it as a “walking simulator.” Years later, Fullbright’s newest game Tacoma seems to laugh at the moniker. It ever so slightly adjusts Gone Home‘s concept, and places it in the confines of a space station. You can’t walk in zero-gravity, after all.
Tacoma drops some of Gone Home‘s poignancy and nuance in favor of broad appeal, which isn’t a bad thing. Whereas Gone Home‘s “buried story” was a turn off for some, Tacoma places its narrative on proud display. All backstories and character details still hide in drawers, lockers, and computer screens. Yet as you enter a new room in the Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma, an augmented-reality hologram will proceed to roll. You’re presented with silhouettes of the station’s past crew! Each one has their own color and voice, and proceeds to talk with one another. From here, the world is your oyster, and the main plot unfolds in any order you’d like. No digging here.
In a way, Tacoma is a linear choose-your-own adventure game. As you find new holograms, you’ll fast-forward, rewind, and pause the everlasting scenes. You begin to discover why the station is vacant, and why you are there. You can listen in on past discussions, or explore the living quarters. After all, a bedroom or office will tell you far more about a person than a conversation will. Your relationship with these six members begins one-sided and shallow. Yet soon enough, it feels as tangible as the connection with your real acquaintances.
…Tacoma proves its worth as an immersive experience. It delivers a story more cohesive and interesting than many TV shows and movies.
As you hit a breakthrough in your virtual friendship, you’re scurrying on to the next area. You get a full biography of each face, then the next, then the next. But Tacoma lacks the emotional threading between characters that its predecessor had. We once saw confrontation between a teen and her parents, told only through a notebook. We now see six separate entities dealing with outside problems on their own. Their motivations lie in a backstory, not in Tacoma. There aren’t many natural connections tying this world to itself.
Yet Tacoma proves its worth as an immersive experience. It delivers a story more cohesive and interesting than many TV shows and movies. This allows for personality and thought on a level that’s unprecedented in entertainment. The holograms let you catch two simultaneous conversations; map entire complex scenes; and gather relevant environmental details. These would all be bylines in other media. In this regard, Tacoma is leaps and bounds ahead of Fullbright’s last title. It refines the concept of environmental storytelling by being more interactive than “walking.” If Gone Home (in all its splendor) was a walking simulator, Tacoma is a full track-and-field gathering.
Tacoma doesn’t deliver in every department. Some characters feel very fleshed out, while others seem rushed by. The climax to the two-or-three-hour story is over in mere minutes. Yet when Tacoma sticks its landing, it does so in a splendid way. The game tells its tale a plethora of ways, every one of which is enjoyable and interesting. Its world, art style, and story are all fascinating and satisfying. Fullbright has created another spectacle they must soon outdo. Even with a few blemishes, Tacoma is a multi-faceted diamond, twinkling like a star.