How is Tacoma doing these days
Video game narrative has made an impressive leap in recent years and that's in large part due to titles that don't necessarily push the boundaries of the medium. These games are arguably best known as the Narrative Exploration Game, although many people disparagingly treat them as a walking simulator. Admittedly, the term also fits, as it describes at least sufficiently exactly what we do in this genre and what the challenge is.
Fullbright has made a name for itself with Gone Home. Back then, the game had a major influence on how environmental storytelling takes place in games today and, despite its simple game principle, burned itself into the hearts of many players. The studio's next title is called Tacoma, and Fullbright are trying to break new ground with this experience. This time it's about artificial intelligence, workers' rights, relationships and how people deal with stress and pressure. The classic sci-fi space station with narrow spaces, the omnipresent AI and the potential for a real mess was chosen as the scenario.
We (Amy) appear on the Tacoma space station after the crew left their workplaces due to a catastrophic event. We don't know about any of this, but our mission is to retrieve the station's AI data. While we are extracting this data, we search the crew's quarters and see recorded scenes of the missing crew members in the form of holograms. We can follow them through the corridors, listen to their conversations and explore the surroundings. In the personal computers of the workers we learn partly intimate details about the situation of the employees on the station, otherwise a few cats are waiting to be found and there are Easter eggs, but the gameplay is largely limited to running around. The experience is very linear and limited so that the narrative can take center stage.
As we walk through the station, collect data, observe holograms (which, by the way, can be stopped, fast-forwarded or rewound at any time) and get to know our surroundings, the story unfolds. This may sound a bit fragmented, but the core narrative is very concise and is presented effectively. We experience events that happened just a few days or hours before we arrived. It's all written in an interesting way, but in the end it looks badly constructed and our own position seems very separate from what is happening. The resolution of all of this happens very late, as we are used to from a Fullbright game. The twists only take place towards the end.
Tacoma is one of the games we'll be playing for a lot longer than the actual playing time of around two hours. Whoever wants to take the time to explore the space station or run from one event to the next. The living rooms of the six crew members who lived there are particularly well captured. Visually, Tacoma is very solid. The colorful holograms set themselves apart wonderfully from their surroundings and we can easily follow them due to their eye-catching design. While we are on board, there are many scenes that invite us to linger for a moment. The synchronization is also very decent and the quality of the performance makes the lifeless holograms look like almost real people.
The overall theme of Tacoma is based on Big Brother and personal integrity. The crew members are constantly monitored and recorded, but now they have made their peace with it. It's part of her job and part of her current life. Nevertheless, while playing, we get the feeling that we are entering these people's private rooms without being asked, reading their e-mails and chat histories and looking at their things. As a result, we experience unfiltered emotions, sensitive moments (there is a couple in the team), moments of desperation and also everyday matters. And the fact that we don't know exactly what happened to the crew the entire time makes the whole thing even more tense.
The bipolarity between the unauthorized entry of a strange world of thought and the separation from the actual happenings and the corresponding events of the game ensures an impairment of the level of immersion. This, in our opinion, is a fair deal for conveying the valuable message that comes at the end. So Tacoma is a game that primarily appeals and stimulates the mind. The title does not succeed in doing this at the level of Gone Home or Giant Sparrow's What Remains of Edith Finch, but if you are a fan of the genre, a playthrough is definitely worth it. As is well known, the devil is in the details, but that's obviously where Tacoma shines most.
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