Tacoma is the latest game from Fullbright, the developers behind ‘Gone Home’, and it doesn’t stray far from the storytelling and exploration focus which was presented in their earlier title. The major difference here is that we seem to have a cross between ‘The Station‘ and ‘The Invisible Hours‘ as we are aboard a desolate space station whilst having the ability to manipulate time in order to progress the story. Initially announced as a ‘Launch Exclusive’ on Xbox, Tacoma has made it’s way to PlayStation with full PS4 Pro enhancements to boot, the question is, was this worth the 8-9 month wait?
Tacoma is set within the year 2088, a far cry from the 90’s setting of Gone Home, and our protagonist is a space contractor known as Amy. You have been sent to the abandoned space station Tacoma in order to investigate the derelict spacecraft and recover data on what actually happened. As you float down the empty hub and enter the life-less sections of the ship, you must use your futuristic tools to reconstruct the conversations, documents, and agendas of all of the crew members one by one and store the information onto your glorified iDS (an iPad sized double screen tablet).
Your initial aim is to find out the reasoning behind why the crew abandoned the ship and watch as your goals and mission changes as you uncover more. Using the aforementioned ability, you will encounter digital representations of the crew, which are almost like ghosts, from various points in time – up to a year prior – as you spy on them to gather intel. Tacoma is very much like Gone Home in that it doesn’t hold your hand, you aren’t told where to go, and the story won’t come together until the end.
If you like narrative-based games then this is one you should have on your wishlist as there is so much to see and do in this beautiful enclosed world created by Fullbright.
First things first, let’s talk about the controls and the gameplay mechanics as other than the narrative, these are probably the most intriguing in this game. controls wise, simple – you used your DS4 to move and interact with things – you can pick up almost everything, yet interact with almost nothing, which is a common trait in games like this. What I mean is, take the lounge for example, I was able to pick up every single pool ball on the pool table and place them all back into the triangle. Then, I removed the triangle and picked up a cue and hit the cue ball then proceeded to play a game of pool with myself. There was no need to do this – it added nothing to the game and there wasn’t a trophy, but the fact you can pick up and manipulate everything for no obvious gain clearly shows a lot of care went into the small details.
Also, the game has a lot of hidden secrets for you to find which do have links to PSN trophies. Hidden secrets such as finding all of the cats as you wander around and also discovering and opening all of the lockers. These few things will keep you busy for a while, as long as you don’t use a guide.
Now then, in my intro, I likened the game to ‘The Station‘ and ‘The Invisible Hours‘ both very good games in their own rights yet slightly similar. One is about you being assigned to check out what has happened tot he crew of a spaceship which has gone silent and the other is a murder mystery within a house back in the early 19th century. So how do they fit with the mechanics of Tacoma? Let’s start with the obvious one, The Station is almost the same plot but with a lot more puzzles. You’re sent to investigate the goings on within a spacecraft of some sort, only to find the truth, have your mission changed and alter it accordingly. Simple. But then we come to the fun mechanic which is very similar to The Invisible Hours…
In The Invisible Hours, you are within the house of Nikola Tesla, the guy who has built a time machine under his mansion. The main mechanic of that game is that you are an invisible entity and you can manipulate time at will in order to rewind and forward it. You follow each of the seven guests around to see what they were doing at certain times and who they were with when the murders occurred. If you flip that then you get Tacoma. Tacoma has you using your futurist devices to recover holographic data of the past crew members, data with can be manipulated forwards or backwards as you follow these ghostly figures around to listen to and see all the individual stories. It’s almost the same, only in Tacoma, you’re the living being and the others are the entities.
So, the core mechanic – time manipulation. As you enter certain sections of the ship, you will be presented with the option to recover data in that area. Once you choose to do so, the silent, lonely halls will perk up as ghostly wire-frames start walking and talking around you. And thus begins the main mechanic of the game. You have a timeline with key moments plotted on it, you can forward through them but it’s encouraged to listen to the conversations and look at the actions happening during the whole timeline. Once done, rewind it and follow another crew member as they could be having another conversation in the other room or giving out vital information which you need to hear.
That’s not all, at the ‘key points’ in the timeline, a crew member will be operating their on-person PDA like device. Once those pop up, you can pause the story and hack into them in order to read their email, see their chat logs and text message, as well as see images and secrets they hide in order to obtain clues. You will also overhear crew members talk about locker or door codes as well as hinting at where they are going next or secret entrances. Remember how I said the game doesn’t hold your hand – this is because all the information regarding what’s going on and what to do is given to you directly through the memories of the crew indirectly.
The main issue I would have with Tacoma would be its length, although most narrative games fall into this trap. The Station was a 3-hour game which you could platinum in 45 minutes, Gone Home can be finished in 60 seconds if you dart for the ending, but The Invisible Hours takes about 90 minutes to play through the story, but you have seven stories to play out – so that game is the exception. Tacoma can be easily completed in 2-3 hours if you read and interact with most things or around 50 minutes if you know where you are going. That’s 50 minutes for the platium.
So, my advice would be to take your time with the game, read everything, watch all the memories and take in the beauty that Fullbright has created. Also, a second playthrough with the developer’s commentary (which is a new addition in the PS4 version which is also being placed into the PC and Xbox releases) is essential as you learn just how much went into creating this new world and where the inspiration came from. I love games that offer this as a feature – I remember playing Dear Esther and turning the commentary on in that game as well, it’s nice hearing a passionate set of developers talk about their game.
Finally, we come to the technical aspects. I mentioned at the very beginning that Tacoma fully embraces the PS4 Pro – in the options menu on this mid-gen console, you will find a toggle for 4k rendering. Why it isn’t on by default is anyone’s guess though as I found very little difference between it being on or off in terms of performance. Both modes seemed to run smoothly with no hiccups and the 4k rendering offers a sharp image, even on a 1080p TV. The only issue the game had was the loading of the new areas via the transport elevators. As you go down there, the game stutters and freezes for a few seconds as it loads in new assets – this happens on the Xbox as well and doesn’t impact gameplay as you can’t move whilst on the elevator anyway.
Graphically the game is gorgeous – it’s a generic space station of the future, with its chrome aesthetic, holographic workstations, neon lights, and shower with a sunroof that shows you the stars above as you get wet and wild. The game features a lot of corruptions, so emails will be messed up or words on the wall have malfunctioned, which is cool. The wireframe ‘ghosts’ are all memorable and you can tell who each one is without remembering the colour of each person, which is quite a feat for an 80% wireframe model. There is also a lot of detail in every item you can pick up to the architecture of the environments around you. I really can’t fault the graphical fidelity. The voice acting is equally as impressive, with each character having their own distinct personality and attitude. Plus, you can hear the change in their tone of voice as you experience memories from more stressfull or happy time zones.
By the end of the game, I was heavily attached to all six of the crewmembers, those who were presented to me only three hours earlier as stick-men and women have now become so much more. I’ve been reading their emails, spying on their private moments and even observing them when they thought they were along. this is why, when I started my second playthrough with the commentary on, things felt fresh and new even though I’d just finished my first playthrough. I saw the characters from a new perspective, something that can only be gained by playing through and experiencing all of the interactions first-hand in this amazing narrative game.
Tacoma is a carefully put together piece of art in the narrative-story driven genre of games. The team at Fullbright have taken everything they learnt from Gone Home and improved on everything from the pacing to the delivery of the story, only without such an emotional ending this time. The majority of your time will be investigating spirit-like reconstructions as you look into the crew members lives and create a bond with each of these people who are no longer aboard the ship. Tacoma isn’t a long game, but it’s a game which will stick with you and make you want to go back for more, even if it’s just to listen to the director’s commentary. Highly recommend to fans of story-driven games like Firewatch, The Station, Gone Home, and The Invisible Hours.
**A code for the game was kindly provided by the developer for review purposes**
- Intriguing and interesting story
- The crew members are all introduced perfectly in order for you to form a bond with them
- The added directors commentary gives you a genuine reason to replay the story
- No hand holding - the game is about exploration and investigation
- The voice acting, sound and graphics are brilliant for an indie studio
- The game is a little short
- Even though I love the fact there is no hand-holding, it is a bit easy to get lost on what to do next