Tacoma has a lot going for it. It’s short and sweet with a powerful narrative. In some respects, one might not even call Tacoma a game at all—the experience is closer to that of a visual novel that plays out as the gamer interacts with the environment. Overall, the personal tone and clever storytelling manage to shine.
The setup: In Tacoma, players step into the role of Amy Ferrier, who is tasked with boarding the titular space station, downloading information from the station’s computers, and learning what has become of the six-person crew. Players will accomplish that last goal through the use of augmented reality (AR) devices the station’s AI, ODIN, gave to Amy at the start of the game. These devices allow her to view simple holograms of the crew and their previous interactions, all of which were recorded and cataloged.
Players can navigate through various scenes as they explore, pausing, rewinding and fast forwarding until satisfied they’ve seen everything play out. These scenes form the bulk of Tacoma’s story. While the crew members’ faces aren’t available (they’re represented by digital avatars), the solid voice acting and animations help tell the tale and connect interested players with the colorful cast.
Although central to the game’s plot, the scenes aren’t the only way gamers learn about the crew. They’ll also have the opportunity to dig through secrets and learn more about the tensions between characters by snooping on personal correspondence. Without revealing too much, these will likely cause many players to form stark opinions about their varying personalities.
Admittedly, it’s not the most original setting for a game—space stations may well seem like a dime-a-dozen nowadays. The realistic presentation and draw of exploring the station help to inject some measure of life into what would otherwise be a world bereft of substance. Thankfully, nearly every room has something for gamers to play around with—basketball, a pool table, darts, etc.
If all this sounds vaguely familiar, that may be because Fullbright Company, the studio behind Tacoma, also produced 2013′s Gone Home. It was a similar style that placed a priority on narrative and realism over combat and gameplay. Fans of that previous work will likely enjoy Tacoma.
The sometimes derisive term “walking simulator” has oft been applied to games of this ilk. In the case of Tacoma, the story, while gripping, can be completed in a few hours. The presentation, while detailed and inventive, will be uninteresting to players who crave gameplay.
Make no mistake: Tacoma is a solidly-crafted experience, but its appeal, along with that of most other exploration-style games, will only attract the interest of a specific cadre of players.