Genre: First Person Adventure
Release Dates: August 2, 2017 (XBONE) / May 8, 2018 (PS4)
As game development becomes easier with the rise of new technologies and engines, that opens up the window for some developers who might not have a lot of experience designing games to tell a story using only the environment and exploration, pushing gameplay to a secondary place in favor of short narratives. While there have been many such games released in the past years, very few of them managed to tell a powerful story in such a short time and with the few tools available in environmental exploration games, but Fullbright's Tacoma is one of the successful examples. Previously known for 2013's surprise hit Gone Home, Fullbright has took the experience making that game to heart and crafted a truly unique experience, that takes all the stories and interactive objects from Gone Home and strips away the confusing parts and wasted time trying to look for your next objective.
In Tacoma, your objective is clear from the start, which is the moment your character Amy Ferrier enters the Tacoma station after taking a freelance job to check up on a few things aboard the station, from there onward you take on a quest to find out what happened to the permanent inhabitants of the station and why it appears to be a ghost town. Most of the story is told via holographic recordings, which when prompted will show the missing crew talking to each other and interacting with different aspects of the station, while you try to piece together what happened based on those recordings. Once a recording is started you can fully control it, including rewinding it, fast forwarding through it or pausing at any time, this allows you to walk around the area and see where each crew member was at that specific moment in the recording and what they were doing. Using those simple elements, you gradually piece together what happened to them, as well as detailing each character and their personality as you explore their rooms, find recordings of them listening to their favorite music or talking to ODIN, the AI aboard the Tacoma station designed to help them with their daily tasks. 9.5
A large chuck of the gameplay is dedicated to discovering, playing and understanding those recordings, on top of the free exploration element which allows you to read documents, interact with various objects and pick up almost any item that you can grab. Even if exploration isn't your thing, Tacoma always points you in the right direction, so even if you don't have the patience to fully explore every area, the game will let you know when you've gathered enough information from one area and give you directions to the next one. That being said, there are not that many areas and the game can be completed in less than hours, but for a game mainly focused on its story, it packs quite a lot of information and character backgrounds in that time, so it never feels like a longer tale compacted for the sake of time, it just is a very short story overall.
Puzzles are a seemingly missing element that is often found in other games in this genre, as the only puzzle aspect in Tacoma comes from piecing together those recordings and finding out where everyone is at each point in time, but that isn't something hard to do, as areas are not that big and the recording bar also has timestamps for every AR Crew Record, so finding them all is only a matter of time. Every other aspect of the game works as you would expect it to and during my 2 playthroughs I have not encountered a singular bug or glitch, so even though the game can be easily finished in one sitting, at least it will be a smooth ride all the way through to the end. 7.5
Each one of the 6 crew members has a distinct personality and background, and even though you can only see their faces in pictures or documents since the AR recordings show them as transparent holograms, players who do want to get more information about each of the characters and their job aboard the Tacoma station will be happy to see that there are numerous items that you can interact with to expand the base story. The station is pretty to look at and each different area has a distinct look based on its purpose, but probably the biggest surprise graphically is looking out the window and seeing the station and the contrast between empty space and Earth further in the distance. 8.5
The voice actors do a fantastic job delivering the dialogue for their respective characters, which serves a major part in Tacoma's powerful story and while not every record is voiced and those corrupted archives will stay corrupted forever, leaving you with a disappointment if you were hoping to later unlock them in order to hear more stories from the crew, what is there is superbly written and you can clearly see the story and the atmosphere surrounding it were the main focus here. 9
Sadly there is only one ending and the game can be completed in one sitting, so when it comes to replay value unless you're looking forward to replay this further down the road with a fresh perspective, there is no reason to come back. While the achievements may give you an extra reason to explore the station further for some Easter Eggs, all of those combined shouldn't take longer that 30 minutes to complete. 6
Tacoma is a short powerful story about space, the power of corporations and tense relations between humans, as well as an exploratory journey as you uncover every aspect of that. If you are into environmental exploration games with a good stories I highly recommend picking up Tacoma, but for anything else you might expect from this game, the short running time and limited gameplay elements might disappoint you. 8.1