Tacoma is going to be a very difficult game to review and score. It will probably be the shortest review I am going to write since joining TiX, as I can’t go into too much detail about the story in fear of giving you any spoilers. And, most importantly, the day after finishing Tacoma, I am still not sure how I feel about it.
Tacoma is the latest game from Fullbright, a very small team of developers whose past game, Gone Home, was extremely well received when released on PC, and has since been ported over to Xbox One. Both Gone Home and Tacoma are examples of games which have been given the somewhat harsh moniker of “Walking Simulators”, which are short, story based experiences.
Tacoma is a story, set in 2088, about six astronauts who are based on the Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma, 200,000 miles from Earth. You play as Amy Ferrier, a contractor assigned by the stations owners, the Venturis Corporation, to enter the abandoned Tacoma station to retrieve AI data from each of its sections and retrieve the physical processing module of ODIN, the station’s AI.
As you explore the station you use an AR device to witness the events that have befallen the crew, leading to the Tacoma becoming abandoned. Using the AR device you are also able to investigate the crew’s personal logs and emails, to see their individual thoughts and messages home. All these AR sections play like video clips, giving you the ability to forward, rewind and pause events to gain all the AI data needed. During these sections you discover codes which enable you to open new areas of the space station. Also dotted around are various objects, which when manipulated can earn you some nice easy achievements.
When you first encounter the AR mechanism its a little bit confusing, as there are markers at various time locations on the bar. But when you realise that they are colour coded, and each crew member is also colour coded, then the objective becomes clear. Each AR sequence can also be split, with the crew members splitting off and having their own conversations, which means the sequences have to be played through multiple times with your focus on different crew members.
The story is by far the most immersive element of Tacoma, especially the back stories and emotional moments witnessed in the various emails and messages sent between the crew, and between their families back home. Just by witnessing these moments, and by reading letters or notes left in drawers, you feel a bond and form emotional attachments to the characters, so much so that you really root for their survival.
The design of the space station Tacoma is also superb. You do feel like you are on a living, breathing space station, where a small group of people live and work. The simple additions of areas like Laundry Rooms and Kitchens, although not the most exciting areas, make it feel realistic. Each area of the station is connected via a hub, where there is no gravity, so you have to manoeuvre being weightless. From the hub, getting to each individual area is done via a long tube with a mechanical lift, which positively reinforces the feeling that you are on a space station. Each area has gravity, so it’s back to walking!
Tacoma is short. I am going to get that right out in the open. It is really short. All in all, to get every bit of content from this game will take about three hours. And that’s it’s biggest flaw.
When the game is about to finish, I was expecting it to move to a new location, or tell me that there has been a mistake and that there was a whole secret area to investigate. But there wasn’t. It was Game Over (man). So, apart from mopping up achievements for the full 1000 Gamerscore, that was it. The achievements are also pretty easy to get, but you will probably need a guide as most are secret and you may not naturally do some of these things whilst playing.
The shortness of Tacoma is the reason I am still unsure what rating to give it. Tacoma is a great piece of storytelling, in a fairly new, inventive way, but it left me feeling a bit empty afterwards. It just didn’t give me enough. I wanted more story, I wanted to see what happened afterwards. I wanted more history of both the crew and the Venturis Corporation.
And, unfortunately I came across a few bugs. At times the framerate drops a lot, and this mostly happened when travelling to different areas of the ship. On one of these occasions it also caused the game to crash, so it’s not perfect in its performance. This even takes place when the game starts with the message “Press A to start”, and you press A and nothing happens, so you keep pressing A until finally the game catches up with the first press of A. The bugs are not game breaking but are definitely frustrating.
So, this is my dilemna. Should you play Tacoma? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. But, if you are like me, you’ll come away with a slight sense of disappointment, as you’ll feel a bit cheated on what time you spend for your £15.
Thanks to Xbox and Fullbright for supporting TiX