‘Tacoma’ Review: Fullbright’s tries to paint a dystopian future, but falls short

Source: Fullbright/Tacoma
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Fullbright’s Gone Home was deceptive enough for me to be disappointed with its outcome. I entered the game with zero expectations, thrilled to find an atmospheric and unsettling empty house, only to be met with a frustratingly dull resolution that felt like a bait and switch. The game certainly seemed as though it was building up to something otherworldly, but instead the end greeted me with such a mundane situation that I felt as though I had wasted my time.

Despite the game’s polish, I wasn’t as enamored with it as I had hoped to be. I wondered what it would have been like had it actually gone the horror route, and if Fullbright might ever pursue something like that in the future. So when Tacoma, the studio’s newest project was announced, my interest was immediately piqued.

I hoped Tacoma would transcend Gone Home’s shortcomings and focus on some sort of chilling tale of an artificial intelligence gone rampant, or any number of unspeakable incidents aboard the space station Tacoma, some 200,000 miles above the Earth. Instead, I was met with an atmospheric enough narrative that was brimming with potential, but gave little drive to keep me exploring every single nook and cranny. The roughly three-hour journey makes some interesting creative choices, but the crew just doesn’t leave enough of an impression for the eventual plot twist to carry the weight that it should.

Tacoma review: Space oddity

Tacoma follows protagonist Amy Ferrier, a working contractor who’s just arrived aboard the Tacoma to retrieve the AI system, ODIN, that had previously been responsible for keeping things running. Doing this is no easy task, however, as you navigate your way through the space station in zero-G with fiddly controls.

The space station feels as though just days ago it was bustling with human life, as items and personal effects float to and fro, but it’s pretty frustrating simply navigating here and there to begin with. It makes the first few fleeting moments as the game kicks off decidedly less immersive when you’re trying to rotate around just right to get to where you need to be.

An example of the AR used to help extract information from different situations in-game.
Source: Fullbright/Tacoma

When you finally get Amy situated, you’re able to investigate the happenings that left the Tacoma derelict in the first place. One of your first interactions on the ship is a view via special on-board augmented reality controls that display station administrator E.V. St. James. She discusses life aboard the Tacoma, what it entails and how the crew loves spending time away from home up in space, though of course things could be better. From then on, you’re able to peer into the daily lives of the crew of the Tacoma in certain areas using the same technology.

The AR tech allows you to see colorful silhouettes of the crew aboard the Tacoma from before you arrived, allowing you to read through their private interactions, listen to their conversations and otherwise pry into the machinations of everyday life. There are complex relationships at work here, as with any macrocosm of humans employed in a relatively small area together.

You can pause and rewind conversations via AR as if you were watching them on television, and walk around freely through these scenes like you were experiencing them in real time. In any other game, this cool mechanic could be used to great effect, but it feels tedious and frustrating here after the first hour or so. Like all games that use similar actions to reveal important plot details, it becomes less exciting and more of a slog as you continue to live the same moments over and over hoping to catch some new understanding of the events that occurred.

Tacoma review: Ground control to majorly boring

The use of AR might not be so much of an issue if it weren’t the bulk of what you need to do in order to unravel the story. The crew members just aren’t interesting people, their jokes unfunny and their chatter not compelling. I tried to understand their plight, but ultimately I didn’t know them long enough or learn enough interesting bits about them to really care about what happened to them. And as far as “what happened” goes, that’s the big hook for Tacoma in general.

Exploring the space station can be frustrating.
Source: Fullbright/Tacoma

There are sprinkles of horror tropes throughout the game, such as the constant reminders that your movements and actions are all being recorded, and specific areas of the space station are cordoned off to Amy as you continue to explore. But the reason for all of this ultimately unfolds far too early, and some players will have sensed the game hurtling in a specific direction before Tacoma even gets a chance to start unveiling certain parts of the story.

Coupled with areas to explore that have little or no impact on the narrative at hand and extraneous details on characters that are difficult at best to empathize or care about when you’ve known them all of an hour or so, this makes for a frustrating and dull riff on everything that made Gone Home work as well as it did up until its letdown of a climax.

It’s a shame, because it has all the trappings of an excellent story-driven game, but ends up tripping all over the details it wants so desperately to reach players. However, unlike, Tacoma doesn’t even have the virtue of at least carrying some accessible viewpoint. Regardless of my displeasure with Gone Home’s mid-game switch from horror to romance, at least there was an attempt at coalescing the experience into a positive message.

What I took from Tacoma was a much more nebulous take on corporate greed that was too far removed from our reality to be meaningful. Maybe if Fullbright had given us a larger picture or more immersion into their version of our future, or given us more time with the crew, it would be different. But as it stands it seems like this game is just a failed attempt to re-create the magic that endeared Gone Home for so many.

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