I have a problem. Whenever I get someone to play The Fullbright Company’s smash-hit Gone Home, I work very hard to convince them that it’s a horror game. Reactions vary to this approach, but you can hardly blame me, the game had vaguely creepy atmosphere, took place during a storm, and even had a pentagram in a secret room. It isn’t a hard lie to sell. Sometimes the player sells it to themselves. Tacoma manages to pull this same environmental genius off once again, but in a way that I think will keep me from pulling the same prank twice. Let me explain.
For transparency: The reviewer played through the entire game twice. The first playthrough gave 11 achievements and took around an hour and a half, the second playthrough was to clean up the final achievement and took around thirty minutes. It is a short game.
Now. I want to discuss Tacoma outside of the context of Gone Home as much as possible. In Tacoma, you play someone hired by the Venturus Corporation to retrieve an AI from aboard one their vessels, the Tacoma. As you enter the ship, you activate an AR overlay that allows you to see events that the ship has recorded, all represented by holograms of varying colors. Each of the six crew members are represented by a color, and the AI, ODIN, is represented by a floating pyramid adorned with an eye. It’s a little unsettling, until you get to know them.
The core of Tacoma is the human experience, the heart of it all. You can’t help but fall in love with this crew, despite the fact that they aren’t even really on board. Anyone who knows me is immediately aware that I gravitated towards AI specialist Nat Kuroshenko and her fiance Bert Williams. One is a cluttered isolationist programmer with a tendency towards digging in corporation mainframes and educating AI past recommended intelligence, the other is a crack-shot mechanic and card carrying member of a women’s republic back on Earth. They are adorable. They have amazingly intimate and heartwarming moments that make you want to root for them from the get-go. You may have even seen one of the most simple touches regarding the pair that goes a long way in repairing the god-awful presentation of sex that video games normally offer. In my mind they are the heart and soul, but every character is equally important and just as full of unique charm.
The rest of the crew includes E.V. James, the station admin who binds the team together, Clive Siddiqi, a troubled operations specialist and family man grappling with hidden fear, medical officer Sareh Hasmadi, a brilliant young woman with an uncertainty in her future, and Drew Dagyab, who unfortunately suffers the largest lack of characterization, but not by much. It seems like a lot to take in from the article, but you’ll know them all like family if you investigate thoroughly. By the way: that’s what kind of game Tacoma is. While “Walking Simulator” has come to mean so much more than it did in the Dear Esther days, Tacoma is just that. You walk from room to room, observing objects, digging through trash, and researching people you’ve never met. It’s invasive, but it creates an intimate space that games often fear to tread. While to story itself is nothing new or boisterous, the feeling of getting to know characters in this way is still a novel milestone of what we could be accomplishing with the medium.
As is dictated by the unbreakable laws of narrative, there is of course conflict, but without spoiling: this game, while allowing itself to be dark and dangerous and heart-wrenching, is not afraid to use those terrors to frame happy and calming moments. One of my favorite memories was entering the creepiest section of the ship, nervous thanks to creaks and groans from my surrounding, and looking up to see an item lodged in a grate: a wedding ring. Won’t say whose it is or what it means, but it took away all the looming danger I was imagining and made me fill up with joy. In some sci-fi films, you want everyone to die and they suck, but in Tacoma you want to see the best things happen to these people and you are occasionally rewarded for believing in the kindness of humanity. This game is not a downer. It is realistic, but in the ways most narrative are afraid to be because they’re “too cheesy”.
Now. It pains me to talk on this, but there is a matter of serious technical failing that plagues the Xbox One version of this title. Booting up your game, you may find that you’re one of the hundreds who can’t even get past the “Press A to Start” screen. I was furious. If this happens, you have to disconnect all peripherals aside from the controllers and also sign out of all interacting apps like the Xbox app on phone and Windows 10. It’s a pain, but it seems to work for most. However, the game also managed to crash a full two minutes from the end! That one’s a console problem, but it’s frustrating nonetheless. Apparently there are several other console tech errors that I did not encounter so, if you bought it on Xbox One, wait for a patch on console; which Xbox certification will make take an age, even though they somehow missed a problem like “CAN’T START THE GAME”. You can also buy the game on PC, which I recommend as the superior product for the time being.
-Touching and genuine, Tacoma is emotion over action in the best possible way
-Positive character portrayals that avoid tropes in masterful writing
-Beautiful design sense makes for gorgeous visuals and environments. This game is so much fun to look at.
-While weaker than Gone Home’s riot girl tracks, the music and atmospheric noise are unparalleled by industry standards.
-Price point does feel high for a two hour experience at $19.99 and some may have a hard time justifying it with titles like Sonic Mania and Megaman Legacy Collection 2 launching at the same price around the same time.
-Xbox One version of the title has unacceptable bugs and tech errors that make it unplayable for some. Fullbright has promised a patch though, so stay tuned.
-The experience is very short. If you don’t go in for this sort of game, Tacoma will not be the one that changes your mind.
Tacoma is a game I recommend with a grain of salt. I loved it, but I also recognize that games in this genre aren’t for everyone and that those who consider themselves more “hardcore” (you try-hard you) won’t find anything here. Tacoma may be short, but every second felt like it earned my attention and then some, and brings a positive vibe and emotional realism that rival the most well-written gaming experiences. A big Augmented Reality thumbs up from me. The cat is also named Margaret Cat-Wood, so you’d be a fool to not buy this game. Feel free to peruse the image gallery I’ve accumulated below. Love you!