As both a critical and commercial success, Gone Home, the debut title from indie developer Fullbright, is rightfully seen as one of the seeds from which so called walking simulators grew. With this genre off-shoot proving very attractive to smaller developers – mainly due to being focused in scope – it came as no surprise that in the intervening years, a large number of teams chose to follow in Gone Home’s footsteps. So, when Fullbright announced its next game, Tacoma, would be in a similar vein to its debut – albeit set on a space station – many people were intrigued to see how their sophomore effort would turn out.
The year is 2088 and, surprise surprise, the corporations are firmly in charge. Offering everything from education to space travel, loyalty to your chosen corp is a key decision for every citizen that’ll follow them throughout their life. Giving them access to education and job opportunities, working hard for a company – earning company loyalty credit for bigger rewards and opportunities in the process – means that failing to be a model employee, or leaving to work for another company can see you stuck in low-level job positions, or in the worst case, with no job at all.
One of these corporations – Venturis Technologies – has a number of orbital stations, and you’ve been contracted to retrieve ODIN, the AI running their lunar transfer station Tacoma. Apparently, there’s been an incident on board and the crew’s been evacuated, so you’ll need to visit each of the station’s sections to download the AI, before physically transporting its core to your own ship.
As you explore the deserted stations modules one by one, you’ll start to come across archived AR (Augmented Reality) recordings showing the crew’s activities in the run up to and following the incident. These aren’t simple audio logs, but instead allow you to observe the crew as they interact and move through the physical spaces in the station, all the while represented by crude polygonal character models. With the ability to rewind, fast forward, and pause, they prove to be an enjoyably interactive way of delivering information to the player about the events on Tacoma, and you’ll need to shadow each of the crew members through these recordings if you want to wring every nuance out of the information being presented.
At various points during these logs the crew may also access their AR desktops – something the player character also has – and it’s at these specific moments you’re able to view a corrupted version of their communication devices. Showing memos, message chains, and a variety of other titbits of information, when these are put in context with the aforementioned AR logs, as well as the physical detritus left behind by the crew – contained in desk draws, lockers, and personal quarters – you’re able to build a pleasingly vivid picture of each team member.
While you can’t miss the main story and character beats as you explore, there’s plenty of peripheral information you can pass by if you’re not meticulously examining everything you can as you move from room to room. There are also the occasional locked doors enticing you to find a way to get through, but these never enter full on puzzle territory, with most codes found within the AR recordings or, more predictably, on crew members’ personal computers.
Perhaps Fullbright’s greatest strength is its ability to build interesting character portraits that actually makes the cast come across as real people, and as with Gone Home, you’ll feel like you’ve gotten to know the Tacoma’s multi-cultural crew quite well, even though it only takes a couple of hours to see their story through to its conclusion. One reason for this is the volume of information packed into Tacoma about each crew member, as well as how it’s written, feeling both authentic and honest. In addition, the actors voicing the crew in the AR logs are great, delivering performances that aren’t flashy or grandiose. Again, it just feels real and relatable, even given the futuristic setting.
Despite Tacoma ticking many of same boxes as Gone Home in terms of its engaging characters, it unfortunately doesn’t manage to deliver the sort of emotional payoff that was a key part of what made Fullbright’s debut resonate so strongly. Perhaps it’s the overarching story, which while intriguing and well written – with some really interesting things to say about AI, corporations, and human obsolescence – just doesn’t have the intimate stakes you’d expect to be sitting at the heart of its climax, instead tackling issues with far ranging repercussions that will impact everyone, not just the six souls manning the Tacoma.
With Gone Home representing a key moment in gaming, Tacoma had plenty of potential to suffer from so called “second album syndrome”. While it never manages to hit the same emotional highs – or lows – as its predecessor, it still stands out from the crowd, mainly through the implementation of some nicely interactive AR scenes to deliver its key story moments. While there are certainly other complaints you could level at Tacoma – such as its rigid linearity and how it occasionally falls into genre clichés – these can be easily forgotten as developer Fullbright once again proves where its strengths lie: with down-to-earth characters and thought-provoking storytelling.