A first person ‘narrative focussed’ game might not usually be something to get too excited about – there’s more than enough of them, and to be fair a large percentage aren’t really that good. But attach the name of a company like Fullbright Studios, and it’s a different matter. I suppose Fullbright don’t have a massive record as a company in making games, but they do happen to be the talent behind one of the best narrative focussed titles in recent memory, Gone Home, so a bit more anticipation for their brand new title of the same genre is only natural.

This time, however, we’re not exploring the empty house of a returning family member. Instead we’re put into the space boots of a woman exploring the abandoned space station Tacoma. A recent disaster has struck Tacoma, and you are there to explore and discover what happened. So, wander around the environments and gather notes? No, actually, Tacoma takes a different and much more interesting approach.

The space station is equipped with an advanced surveillance system which produces 3D holograms of the goings on around the place. Pivotal moments between the characters that portray how things went down, as well as their interactions as friends and colleagues. At least one of these recordings is accessible in each area, which you will tap into with your character’s arm gadget (some futuristic thing that enables her to do that – there is a part at the beginning of the game where she puts on some equipment as she boards the station).

Simply put, these play out like video recordings around you. The characters are in the room with you, so to speak, and you can wander around them and eavesdrop on their conversations. You can pause, rewind and fast forward these recordings as well, which you will need to do in order to get the full story. This is where the system gets a little more interesting. This is a story about a crew, not an individual person, and so most recordings have simultaneous events playing out in their particular areas. Perhaps you start the recording watching two crew members having a conversation, but just in the next room there may be two others also having a conversation, so in order to get the full picture, you will need to rewind the recording and check out that other room.

Fullbright do a great job of making these interactions dynamic as well as interlinking them in a very natural, realistic way. You may start watching the whole crew have a group conversation, but then midway through a couple of them wander off to do something else. The remaining group will continue with their conversation, but if you follow the two that trailed off, you can discover what they get up to as well. It’s a much more involved way of what is effectively watching the story play out in front of you, and the onus is on you to rewind and fast forward to try and catch all the bits of interaction you may have missed. If the story was uninteresting then I don’t feel this would work at all – with the player just skipping through conversations to get to a perceived conclusion, and then being horrified to find out that they have very little idea of what went on – but thankfully, just like Gone Home, the narrative is compelling, in a curiosity-driven kind of way (both games are quite subtle and slower paced, but the way they’re written makes you want to continue and find out all the details).

Having said all that, there is some direction to ‘completing’ these recordings, and you will be gently pushed into checking out the different branches of character events. This is managed through the ability to hack into character holograms at specific intervals in recordings. It’s displayed on the recording timer when one is in motion, and at specific times a character symbol will pop up indicating that they can be hacked into. So, for example, you see that the green symbol has appeared, so you look for the Botanist wherever he may be and hack into his hologram. Once this is done you can take a peek at that person’s messages, e-mails and other relevant forms of info, giving a bit more insight into their situation. However, once again, the onus is really on you to pay attention and discern their character for yourself.

The game is very much a human story – while the knowledge of a disaster taking place is always there in the background, the real stories are from the crew members interacting with each other, be that two who are in a relationship, how they are all reacting to the challenges they face, or even something simple like reading an e-mail that reveals some aspect of their home life. While I will say that Tacoma is not as immediately enthralling as Gone Home was, it still gets you with some emotional storytelling, and come the end I found myself surprised by my attachment to a couple of the characters. And I say surprised not just because the process is gradual – it may only be 2-3 hours long, but the story is spread finely – but also because ultimately you don’t get much depth with any of the characters.

In my notes, I had originally written this as somewhat of a light negative, however in hindsight I think it was quite effective. Not meaning to get pretentious or anything, but the characters on the station are for all intents and purposes complete strangers to you who have come from somewhere else and lived on the station for some time. You don’t start the game at the beginning of the story, you very much start in the middle and essentially stay there. But I think that’s okay, because this is a glimpse, after all, of life on the station in the short run up to a disaster. It’s a subtle way of telling a story – and a risky way – and I’m sure some will find it isn’t as profound as they may have wanted, but personally I found what the developers did with this small story to be very intriguing and effective.

It helps that the environments are highly detailed as well. The station looks and feels how you might expect, with a tunnel of zero gravity that you will pass through on a few occasions, windows looking out on the black of space, and all kinds of technology and ‘spacey’ things littered around the rooms. You pick up an object as simple as a drinks carton and it has all this information written on the back. It shows how much effort the developers went to in order to make this station feel authentic, and it pays off.

If you can’t tell, I very much enjoyed Tacoma. But as far as recommending the game for other gamers, this will obviously depend on your tolerance for passive experiences. While Tacoma offers an interesting take on the genre with the exploration of these hologram recordings, it’s still a ‘read and watch things play out’ affair, so you need to consider that. Also the length may irk some. I suppose it’s a typical length for a narrative focussed title, but 2hrs is difficult to stomach when you’ve dropped 15 quid. Otherwise, however, Tacoma has a great aesthetic and a well told narrative. I personally found the characters to be compelling to follow through their brief conversations and actions, and the way this mechanic was handled is an interesting step forward, and certainly quite unique. If you enjoyed Gone Home, while this perhaps isn’t quite as hard hitting, I think you’ll find it equally as enjoyable and intriguing.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games, but my 'real job' is as a postman. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29