- Release Date (NA): August 2, 2017
- Release Date (EU): August 2, 2017
- Publisher: Fullbright
- Developer: Fullbright
- Genres: Adventure, exploration
- Also For: Xbox One
In Tacoma, players will not find a thrilling, difficult, or lengthy gameplay experience. Instead, the game itself is its own reward. Every moment spent exploring the lives of the Tacoma crew leads to another satisfying piece of storyline advancement and character development. Tacoma masters the art of interactive storytelling by giving players control over how much information they are presented and when. Continuing the trend from their critically acclaimed title Gone Home, Fullbright proves that they can create an amazingly satisfying video game experience by subverting all traditional methods of storytelling and slowly developing a stellar cast of characters.
The year is 20XX...
Tacoma is great at establishing atmosphere in more ways than one. From the opening shot of the vast cosmos, the title takes time to let players soak in their surroundings. Of course, one could choose to just blaze through the game in an hour and not do that at all; however, Tacoma presents itself so beautifully that it's impossible to resist. Very little information is fed directly to the player, encouraging liberal exploration without making it mandatory. Although built in the often abused Unity engine, the environments of Tacoma are beautiful enough to encourage long pauses to stare out of the ship's windows. All these well-executed techniques lead to an extremely solid platform on which to tell a story.
Speaking of story, Tacoma is set in the distant future of 2088, in which artificial intelligence and augmented reality have evolved to universal utilization. The Tacoma is an orbital space shuttle whose crew are contracted by the ominous Venturis Corporation. The player's role is that of another contractor, Amy Ferrier, sent to retrieve artificial intelligence data from the ship after an accident has occurred and the crew has disappeared. So much of this basic information and atmosphere is exposed not by direct communication, but by pure exploration. As the player enters the Tacoma, they are presented with an augmented reality device which makes all this information available on demand. The AR desktop displays messages from Venturis Corp., as well as some basic information such as the crew roster and Amy Ferrier's ID. However, none of this information is necessary to even pay attention to. Skipping all of this introduction is a viable option, which is part of why it's so remarkable that I found myself wanting to learn as much as I could.
This AR device allows the player to retrieve certain moments of the crew's history. Players can rewind, pause, and fast-forward these moments at will. Different areas contain different tapes, and the player can walk around with the crew members and listen to their conversations. To get every piece of the story, players would rewind tapes to follow different characters to different places and get the full story. Occasionally, the AR desktop of a character is exposed, showing whatever private messages, internet pages, or notes that character had pulled up. Again, what makes this all so unique is that you can just skip all of it. As the player explores the ship, they are only forced to wait while data transfers are taking place at a terminal. This lightly encourages exploration, but you don't have to hear every conversation or check every desktop.
Despite the option to skip whatever I wanted, I found myself drawn to the world and the characters enough to want to find everything possible. Characters' personal quarters are filled with photos and other personal items. AR tapes are often found of the crew listening to their favorite songs or chatting with a friend back home while in their bunks. There is no greater feeling than reading something stuffed in a character's drawer that is subtly referenced in a future conversation. The reward for exploring these beautiful environments is simply knowledge and understanding of the personalities of these people. Of course, this all would indicate that the story ought to be pretty amazing if this system were to work. It definitely is.
Tacoma's story is a sci-fi adventure that is simultaneously incredibly realistic. It deals with heavy issues like the evolution of artificial intelligence while focusing on a small cast of six crew members. Watching the characters react to the disastrous events folding around them is an amazing experience. Information can be found simultaneously about the Venturis Corporation, the evolution of ODIN, the ship's AI, and the personal lives and friends of these characters back home. Everything works so well within the story that it's impossible to describe without experiencing it personally.
One of my few criticisms surrounds the game's length. Fullbright clearly states as the game first loads that it is a two-to-five hour experience which can be played in as much detail as the player pleases. There's nothing to hide here; Tacoma is a very short game. I finished everything in about three hours, and I explored everything I thought was possible. The price of entry is perhaps a bit too high at $20, considering the length. However, I can't fault Tacoma too much here, since everything culminates in an absolutely fantastic and satisfying ending which could have perhaps have been hindered by a longer game. The game's amazing interweaving of story and atmosphere makes it worth the price despite the short length.
Tacoma's presentation is another one of the title's many high points. The environments are beautiful and absorbing, with tons of detail. Characters' rooms are littered with empty cups, wrappers, books, and photos, the volume depending on the character's personality. Every window contains a beautiful view of the ship's exterior and the stars and planets around it. The AR system is incredibly smart, making interaction feel natural in a matter of minutes. The voice acting is also superb, emphasized by some moments of fantastic music which enrich the experience even more. The different accents of the characters sound great, contrasting with the somber, serious tone of the ship's AI. The presentation here is absolutely stellar (no pun intended).
I can't help but feel Tacoma would work extremely well in VR. However, the game has no support for VR at all, and Fullbright currently has no plans to make that possible. I'm not a huge VR fan personally, but this is one of few titles where I think it would really enrich the experience, and it's a bit disappointing to see a total disregard for the technology which is used extensively in the game's storyline.
- Beautiful environments and great voice acting
- Fantastic story with well-developed characters
- Unique storytelling approach, allowing the player to set the pace
- Explores real issues in a futuristic sci-fi environement
- Short length considering price
- Puzzling lack of VR support