Jennifer
Aug 08, 2017
Publisher: Fullbright
Developer: Fullbright
Review platform: This game was reviewed on Xbox One with a review code provided by the publisher
Release date: Aug 2, 2017
Tacoma is easily a game that has a surprising amount of depth from the mundanity of its characters’ lives. On the surface it looks like a typical sci-fi narrative adventure, and while it does hit those marks, it also offers a complex look at ordinary people and the insidious greed of capitalist corporations.

Developed by Fullbright, Tacoma is the team’s second game. I know fans of the studio’s first game, Gone Home, are naturally curious as to how well Tacoma stacks up in comparison, but truthfully I haven’t played Gone Home, so I can’t judge on that front. I judged Tacoma on its own merits.

The term “walking simulator” has been used to disparage games like this, but it is also used affectionately by those who embrace it. Though this genre does tend to rely on walking and exploration, it don’t skimp on other gameplay mechanics. And though you generally aren’t shooting enemies, you are interacting with the environment in creative ways. They tell stories in such a way that only games can with player interaction.



Amy Ferrier, the playable character, boards the Tacoma space station in 2088 after the crew loses contact and mysteriously vanishes. Contracted by the Venturis Corporation to transfer data, Amy meets the on-board AI named ODIN and attempts to piece together the events of the last few days via AR recordings. Through these recordings, we learn that Tacoma’s oxygen tanks and communications were knocked out, leaving the 6-member crew with only 48 hours of air and no way to send a distress signal. What ends up playing out over those two days delves into the resilience, despair, and hopefulness of the workers. At the same time, players learn just how evil politics and money can make those in positions of power.

You won’t need to listen to every conversation to fully understand the story, however exploration rewards a more fully fleshed out narrative. The Tacoma station has several explorable areas filled with recordings of conversations. By walking into a room, you can choose to listen to the characters talk and walk about as they attempt to assess the situation and save themselves. Recordings are only two to four minutes long, with players given the ability to rewind or fast forward as much as they like. There were times when I grew frustrated with the speed at which Amy walked as I would have liked to sprint through some sections while exploring, but the slower pace did allow me to appreciate the environment more.



Tacoma humanizes its characters in a way most games do not, through trivial, ordinary conversations and personal items in their rooms. It’s odd that a game featuring holograms somehow does this better than most. Every character is given a backstory, unique personality traits, and relationships that make them instantly relatable. The entire crew (E.V., Clive, Natali, Roberta, Sareh, and Andrew) all feel like real people. Not only do they interact with other crew members, but they have letters, pictures, and other items tying them to life outside of Tacoma. Even ODIN, the AI, is charming in his own way and exhibits a human-like tendency of self-preservation.

Though a lot of games require or encourage the player to search rooms and eavesdrop on NPCs with little regard, it feels strangely like an invasion of privacy in Tacoma. These characters aren’t aware of Amy’s presence since she is viewing holograms projected through AR recordings. What the players witness are crew members at their most vulnerable, speaking with themselves or those they trust. All of their secrets and quirks are on display for us to judge and take in as we please.

As much as I loved it, Tacoma may not live up to some people’s expectations. The story that is told isn’t an elaborate, thrilling sci-fi tale nor does it have any groundbreaking twists, but it isn’t meant to. The ending, while entirely unexpected, did not “wow” me so much as it left me with a feeling of satisfaction at the outcome.



My biggest disappointment with Tacoma came from how well the game ran on Xbox One, which was not great. At several instances throughout my playthrough, I encountered heavy frame rate drops just while walking around, and at one point the screen even froze (though audio continued to play) while travelling between sections. There is an even more problematic bug that causes some players to get stuck on the home screen, but I fortunately did not run into that one.

Summary

Tacoma excels at creating deeply relatable characters without the extravagance and big budget flashiness that pours from AAA titles, making other games feel almost unauthentic. Experiencing the crew’s highs and lows at your own pace instead of constantly being pushed along lets players relish in what makes Tacoma special; its ability to capture people’s emotions. It’s hard not to fall in love with Tacoma’s crew. Still, it’s difficult to overlook the lag as frequent as it is, so I hope Fullbright continues to patch the game. With a few fixes, Tacoma can stand out as an excellent title.
Our score: 7.5/10

Good - A solid concept with wide appeal, good fun if you can look past the flaws.
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