Movies, TV and games are happy to depict people travelling through space. But it never ends well, does it? You’ll never get a successful plot line that documents the breeding habits of a space ant colony or the detailed examination of photosynthesis in zero gravity. It’s always aliens, space madness, weirder aliens, and a crew mutiny resulting in horror or system malfunctions of some kind of super computer.
That last one is where Tacoma comes in, as we are charged with examining the inner workings of a crew on a space station who run into a life-changing event. But is it Interstellar or Space Truckers?
You play as Amy Ferrier who is a sub contractor/salvage expert working for the Venturis Corporation. She starts the game boarding the lunar space station, Tacoma, from her own spaceship. You’re tasked with finding out what happened on the Tacoma, regarding the obvious disaster that happened on board, but most importantly you are tasked with bringing back the expensive AI computer, ODIN. As you head into the deserted space station, you gain access to the computer mainframe and get very clear messages from Venturis that all property and information gained is property of theirs, and that any information obtained must be deleted. Strange? Yes?
Tacoma is a very gentle walking sim like experience that rewards exploration and discovery much like Gone Home. You walk (or float) around the space station without any danger, never needing to worry about fighting, running or screaming. You have a button that is attached to your actions and the point of the entire game is to analyse all the information given to you through the VR headset. For example you might enter an area of the ship and be told over the headset that a memory happened there four hours ago and you can now view it. The event will comprise of a conversation by all six crew members in that area over say, a four minute period. You can rewind and fast-forward certain points of that conversation at any point. Two of the six might then decide to go to another room and have a private conversation, so you can choose whether to follow them. But obviously if you do, then you’ll miss out on the vital info coming from the mouths of the others.
Each member of crew holds valuable information to the overall story, giving access to many hidden areas. There might be passwords to lockers, or by watching them carefully you can see them enter a door code that you can learn and activate yourself. But what it also does is give you an fascinating insight into the group dynamic of dealing with a major problem, while in contrast showing the private intimate moments they have when in smaller groups. This technique and innovative piece of game design works really well and keeps the interest up all the way through the campaign. Trying to find all the clues and conversations becomes addictive and you really do start to care for, and want to know about, all the characters on board the Tacoma.
Quite obviously, the story is where a game like this succeeds – or fails dismally. In order for games of this genre to work, you have to have an interesting journey, a mystery or surprise around every corner. Happily, Tacoma tells a very three dimensional, complex, emotional and uplifting story throughout its journey. It’s not a story of intergalactic aliens or magical evil. It’s a story about corporate greed, solution driven emotional choices and ethical dilemmas.
An incredible amount of work has gone into each character’s backstory and the motivations behind their actions. The detail found in the scattered leaflets, emails and personal objects hanging around the space centre tell different stories and insights too. For example, one VR memory was of an employee in her room, playing a brilliant version of “Is That All There Is” on guitar. After some looking around I found the funeral service for her sister and a special note she wrote for her. It added an extra layer to the memory and made me feel like I had actually discovered a hidden narrative for the character.
Visually and Tacoma is solid with some nice features and brilliant design work on the extra details, especially the documents and displays. The space station stuff all looks good and is really wonderful, but the space outside feels, forgive the pun, a bit dead. The characters’ ghostly outlines in the VR memory are a lovely touch and work incredibly well. There are occasionally some framerate issues, but are never anything to hamper the experience or enjoyment of the game. In the sound department meanwhile, I really do need to talk first about the voice-work, because it’s great. There is some lovely acting from the entire cast, really playing the emotional and complex narratives in fine form. Both the soundtrack and effects are brilliant as well, with some lovely subtle touches placed here and there.
Overall, Tacoma is a high quality walking sim that tells a brilliant story of hope, whilst delivering complex and interesting characters. You can find some great secrets if you search hard and the attention to detail is superb. There are some problems with the save system, occasionally throwing me back to the start and the whole thing died on me at one point in time. And it’s also a relatively short experience – around 2 to 3 hours in length – and it does feel a bit short changed.
But if you like your story driven games, I feel that this is a definite purchase and you should be heading off to space and the Tacoma – for once there are no bloody naughty aliens mucking it all up for us.