Tacoma feels instantly familiar to those who played Fullbright’s debut, the excellent Gone Home. The lonely protagonist is in outer space this time, but otherwise, things are much the same. There’s another empty location to explore as you slowly uncover what happened to the previous inhabitants before a twist reveals itself right at the end. Since Gone Home was released five years ago, many games have tried (and mostly failed) to capture that magic, and as such Fullbright’s formula doesn’t pack the same emotional punch it did in 2013. That said, Tacoma has compelling characters and an interesting, if short, story, so I still recommend you give it a shot if you enjoyed Gone Home.
You play as Amy Ferrier who is sent to the empty Tacoma station by its owner, Venturis, with the goal of recovering AI data and the hardware containing the AI itself. While you wait for the data to download, you can access memories of the crew and gradually piece together what happened to them. These memories play out in front of you, a bit like augmented reality, with colored outlines of the six crew members talking about general work issues such as limited access to the AI they are supposed to be maintaining or arranging a party to celebrate Obsolescence Day.
There are also private moments between couples where they play songs for each other or occasionally argue. Watching this footage feels like an invasion of privacy and yet that didn’t stop me rewinding scenes to watch them play out while following different crew members or reading their personal conversations with off-station family and friends. If you want to get really intimate, you can dig around for locker keys and room codes to get optional background on the characters or the world. The creepiest part is when you realize that you can only watch these conversations because they were recorded in the first place and that includes shower scenes.
A crew of six for an entire space station may not seem like a lot, however Tacoma is operated by an AI—known as ODIN—and the crew is only there to make sure everything runs smoothly. It doesn’t. A meteor shower hits the station and you watch helplessly as the crew debates what to do until help arrives. There’s a limited supply of oxygen on board and, while there are cryo pods, there’s no guarantee the crew will ever wake up after being put to sleep. Phenomenal voice acting helps you develop strong relationships with the characters, especially Hadmadi, the ship’s doctor, as she talks to ODIN about how much information she should reveal to the crew about their chances of survival.
Tacoma doesn’t shy away from making a statement about the potential future of capitalism. In the year 2088, the very concept of employment appears to have become redundant (sorry!). Amy and the entire Tacoma crew are all contractors for Venturis and are paid in loyalty points. The more a contractor works for one particular company, the more loyalty they accrue. This loyalty can be cashed out for currency, although judging by crew conversations and diaries, this appears to be a last resort and something you would typically save for retirement.
A key factor in my enjoyment of walking simulators (or “first-person narrative experiences,” if you prefer) is how much you feel like a genuine part of the story and not just a someone whose job it is to continually push forward on an analog stick. Tacoma doesn’t require a lot of interaction, however your actions are always consistent with the world and your role in it. You float through a zero-gravity hub, walk around the various sub-divisions, and work with the AI to salvage memories and discover what happened to the crew. Being able to pause and rewind the memories makes a huge difference and is required for some light puzzles. For example, you might be following a conversation only for the characters to walk into a locked room. If you rewind the conversation and listen to a separate part of it with other characters you can watch the door code being entered or find a key.
Tacoma doesn’t do anything wrong, there just isn’t enough of it. Puzzles are introduced early but, instead of becoming more challenging, they are seemingly forgotten about later on. The story comes to a satisfying conclusion, however I wish the experience could have been longer or had more optional content to get to know the crew a little better. I became quite fond of them in my two hours with Tacoma, but felt like I barely scratched the surface even after digging through their lockers and personal logs.
Tacoma shows that with great writing and voice acting, you can become attached to characters you only know through colored body outlines and a couple of pictures. I even wanted to know more about the crew’s family back on Earth and I was desperate to dig further into the corporate structure of Venturis and the overall state of the global economy. Tacoma is enjoyable enough that it left me wanting more, even if the experience didn’t hit quite as hard as Fullbright’s groundbreaking debut.