Developer: Fullbright Company
Publisher: Fullbright Company
Year: 2017
Platform: Windows, Xbox One, PS4, Linux, Mac, Luna

Rating: 5

I am a sucker for games about abandoned science stations. So needless to say I was delighted firing up Tacoma, where you must explore an abandoned space station to collect all the data on what went wrong. And while the plot mechanic remains engaging throughout, unfortunately the story holds no surprises.

The game starts as Amitjyoti Ferrier (played by you) docks onto the privately owned space station outside Jupiter. You’re a subcontractor hired to collect data about the six-person crew as well as to download the proprietary on-board AI. You are also outfitted with special optical sensors that allow you to recreate crew interactions (in uncorrupted files) using basic holograms. The sensors will let you know when a “scene” is available, and you have the ability to play, rewind, and fast forward different scenes from the past year the crew was on board.

One neat facet of these scenes is that characters will walk away from each other or move to separate rooms to engage in private conversations with each other or with the AI. And sometimes those rooms are behind locked doors. Unfortunately, the puzzles to unlock these doors is only for pacing, as crew members leave their passwords and keys in very conspicuous places. This makes sense as it becomes apparent the crew, in general, trusts each other. But then the player is forced to take extra time to go digging. The digging does force the player to explore personnel quarters to learn more backstory about each character; I just wish the puzzles had been more creative.

Given that the puzzles are there just to encourage exploration, Tacoma basically boils down to a walking simulator. Outside all the lame locked doors, the game progression feels organic and the story unfolds well. I grew to like each of the six crew members and was invested in their stories. Much like Fullbright’s previous game, Gone Home (also a walking simulator), the crew is quite diverse. Two characters are in a lesbian relationship. One dude has a husband and son back home. And each of them comes from a different ethnic background. Their differences are explored in a matter-of-fact way that suggests how normalized their existence is in the future, which is pretty dang cool.

Ferrier is voiced by Sarah Grayson, who gave an amazing performance in Gone Home. Sadly, her voice is barely heard here. The rest of the actors give credible performances and I really appreciate that each character is voiced by someone from the same race. The use of sound is also effective throughout the game, including music samples that each character enjoys.

Play control is quite simple with a gamepad. Some sections of the space station are gravity-free, requiring you to float around and bump into things. Charmingly, the crew even set up a gravity-free basketball game in the ship’s hub. But thankfully, all science stations and personnel quarters are in Earth-gravity environments, which makes these sections tolerable to move around in.

The graphics are solid. One of my favorite parts of the game is looking out various windows of the space station. Some have a view of Earth, while others get a majestic view of the spinning space station. I kind of wish the holograms had been actual life-like projections, and there’s no scientific explanation as to why you basically see just skeletal outlines. Though I suppose one could presume the game world engineers just didn’t see a practical use for it. One curiosity is the incredibly long load times, both to get into the game and to travel from one section of the space-station to another. Sometimes the transition can be a full minute or two, which is fairly tedious in a walking simulator.

Sadly, what begins as an intriguing mystery peters out. Foreshadowing is overly present, and every time you feel like you have an idea of what went down, the game confirms it not long after. I kept waiting for a twist or at least a new, unexpected plot branch that never happened. The game was over for me in four hours, though many players finished it sooner than I did. If this type of game appeals to you, you’ll probably enjoy Tacoma. Just don’t expect a very deep mystery.

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