Wot I Think: Tacoma

Tacoma

Tacoma is… a beautifully designed lift-the-flap book for grownups? An interactive theatrical novella set somewhere between now and a far-future cyberpunk dystopia? A mysterious soap opera? A snoop-sim? A basket of Easter eggs being used to make a sci-fi omelette? I found it to be a rewarding, tightly edited mix of all of the above, but you probably want to know a bit more so here’s Wot I Think…

Tacoma puts you in the role of Amy Ferrier, a subcontractor boarding the deserted space station, Tacoma. Your official job – the one you’re contracted for – is to retrieve ODIN, the station’s artificial intelligence, for the Venturis Corporation. But while you wait for the file transfers you pick through recordings of life on board, getting to know the crew and uncovering the story of what happened to them.

Tacoma

The majority of the game revolves around these recordings, where augmented reality projections of the crew’s bodies bustle around you. You can listen to what they say, access emails and chats when they open their personal terminals, and follow different groupings of people to get a sense of the personal relationships at play. Rather than being pressured to make a choice as to who you follow, as is the case in immersive theatre, you can scrub backwards and forwards through the timeline of a recording, resetting it so as to pick up other storylines or repeating sections if you weren’t listening because you got distracted by e.g. trying to play pool using apples (you can’t) or writing “bees are cool” in paper letters on the wall (you can!).

Tacoma

Tacoma

The only thing gating your progress through the space station as Amy is the AI file transfers which you set up as you access a section of the space station. The transfers are too slow for you to want to wait them out which is the game’s way of inviting you to find a way to use that time, digging into the lives of the crew. The depth you choose to go into is up to you. I think you could even choose to stand by the AI access panel for the whole time, twiddling your thumbs, although that makes the transfer happen at a snail’s pace. Accessing the crew data makes the process happen faster and, I think, if you’ve accessed all the logs in all the recordings the transfer reaches 100% so you’re not hanging around.

Progress is linear through the different elements of the station but in each section there’s a lot of leeway for you to guide your own exploration. I roamed everywhere and drank in as much information as I could.

I stalked the crew, I got to know their personalities, their preferences, their worries, their cat (who has a magnificent name and is as sleepy as the cats I’ve known in real life), their personal quarters… I rifled through drawers as their insubstantial bodily projections chatted mere feet away, I fleshed out my understanding of Venturis, of AI hierarchies, of employment histories.

Tacoma

I don’t want to give away too much of what I worked out but I will say that I found the game’s setting and the roles of companies to be an interesting extrapolation. It’s not as extreme as typical cyberpunk – maybe it’s medium-term cyberpunk? – but it extends the idea of jealous megacorporations which want to keep users within branded ecosystems from Facebook (and others’) digital landgrabs/content grabs of the present and fleshes them out for the future.

As someone who traditionally gets bored scraping data logs to reach 100% (I still haven’t read all the Destiny grimoire cards, and if a game tries to reward me with lore entries I will purposely ignore that entire tab of the interface) Tacoma was a refreshing change. Each snippet was short enough that I didn’t get bored, plus a lot of the data is corrupted or inaccessible, so when a personal info terminal gives you four icons to click on, often at least one is inaccessible, and the others are either short or corrupted into static or gibberish at points which leaves you free to skim for detail or to absorb them in short bursts rather than have entire chapters to stare at on a screen.

Tacoma

A particular source of joy was the personal quarters for each crew member. As well as helping build up their characters through distinctive knick-knacks and selections of books, they also helped underline connections with other crew members. An orchid grown by the botanist adorned a table in someone else’s room – the sole member of the Tacoma who took him up on his offer when he had spare plants to gift. It also helped round out the elements of the characters which wouldn’t have come up in general ship-related conversation, like individual faith or a character’s insecurity over a specific personality trait. The latter gave me an endearing laugh-out-loud moment pretty early on.

Something I really appreciated was the individuality of each crew member. Probably the most immediately obvious thing is the diversity of body shape. The game doesn’t make a big song and dance about it, it’s more that it’s noticeable in a gaming landscape which tends towards a generic/idealised basic shape. These seemed like humans rather than generic game avatars. But beyond that there are also a range of relationships, family dynamics, faiths and personal struggles or ambitions. The more I speak to anyone, the more I find out that they have their own problems, heartbreaks and happinesses to navigate and it’s so nice to see that reflected in what you find out on Tacoma rather than a bunch of archetypes.

Tacoma

The amount of detail for each object and each surface is amazing too. Meal packets have dietary information, there’s a favourite pop group whose merchandise has been imagined and designed, there’s a crossword, different shaped mugs have left different shaped coffee rings, the neck of a drinks pouch will flop according to the station’s gravity as you turn it in your hand… There’s repetition, sure, but it makes sense aboard a space station where items would be ordered in bulk. Oh, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen hair elastics in a game before!

Tacoma

The meat of the game is the puzzle of what happened to the crew, which I think you’ll always uncover, but your degree of snooping will determine the amount of context and extra information you have. Otherwise it’s more of an experiential project with a few puzzle-y bits, like figuring out a handful of passcodes or finding a key to unlock a drawer or a door.

As with Fullbright’s previous game, Gone Home, Tacoma won’t be for everyone, but it’s a masterclass in environmental and gradual storytelling. It weaves an intriguing story against the backdrop of a believable near-future culture. I think its linearity combined with my extensive exploration means I won’t replay it unless I suddenly think of a question I want answered or until I’ve forgotten a sufficient amount that it feels like a new discovery. But that’s not a criticism. I got everything I wanted from that playthrough and I loved it.

Tacoma is out August 2nd for Windows and Mac, and is £14.99 from GOG and Steam.

37 Comments

  1. LearningToSmile says:

    Sounds like exactly my kind of game. And hopefully being set on a space station means you don’t have to spend literal hours going from place to place(looking at you, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture).

    Now to just ignore the inevitable hordes of dudebros who will deem it to be “not a real game”.

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      Lexx87 says:

      This isn’t Eurogamer ;) Normally arn’t too many of those types around here in this lovely place!

      • Merry says:

        Unfortunately RPS pretty much is Eurogamer now

        • Daymare says:

          As long as RPS don’t start writing a Destiny article every day about things like why Destiny 2’s sky is the best one in all Destinies yet, or why there’s a new gun in Destiny 2 or what have you.

          I don’t know why this irritates me so much over on EG. Like, I have no idea what “Communal Combat Mission” even is and I don’t mind, so I’ve otherwise got no problem ignoring news entries I just don’t care about.

          Also, I might not always agree with, say, John Walker’s WITs, but after reading them at least I know what a game’s about and why he personally enjoyed or didn’t enjoy it.

          Sorry if that was a rant. Also the community here on RPS is very wonderful and certainly part of why I like being here that much.

          • Merry says:

            The announcement that I linked to says this

            This includes the opportunity to do exciting things like hire new people, branch out into new areas such as video, and to modernise the site’s appearance and tech. In an increasingly fierce world, RPS now has big boys to hang with in the playground. That’s going to help us out. We’ll be able to do more, and do it better.

            But all I’ve seen since the sell-out is more unfamiliar names that I can’t trust writing more gash editorial over holidays and weekends. It’s far from the RPS that I used to enjoy, which is why I no longer pay to be a “Supporter”.

            The video catalogue is lame, the site’s appearance hasn’t changed, and I certainly don’t see the site doing more or better. It’s very sad.

    • rochrist says:

      They’re all over screaming at the milkshake gals.
      link to themarysue.com

  2. Idolatry says:

    Yes! Loved Gone Home, and I was so hoping this would be good.

  3. wombat191 says:

    I loved gone home.. great environmental story telling.

    i still dont know why people call it a walking simulator its a pretty standard adventure game

    • maninahat says:

      I know. In most of these games, the gameplay isn’t in the walking from point a to point b, it is in investigating/parsing information.

  4. GernauMorat says:

    Oooh a Fountains of Paradise reference. Always nice to see people are still reading Clarke.

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    Mikemcn says:

    I want to play this but games where you walk around in first person like this give me serious nausea. Gone Home, jazzpunk, Cradle and the Stanley parable… all great games who it caused me physical agony to play so i never finished them. A shame. I hope tacoma gets a demo so i can test it out.

    • sagredo1632 says:

      Ditto here on the nausea (even with adjusting FOV). Persevered through Portal, but I heaved 8 times on the way to completion, and lasted all of 20 minutes in Gone Home before I had to quit. I often see people complain about 3rd person being “immersion breaking,” but for them, it strips away a bit of realism. For me, it makes a game unplayable.

      • saberopus says:

        I don’t suffer similarly, but I definitely empathize. Did either of you play The Talos Principle? I know Croteam have stated in the past their dedication to always providing a 3rd person option for this reason.

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          john_silence says:

          I am never bothered by first-person perspective in first-person shooters; I very often get motion-sickness in first-person adventure games.

          The Talos Principle was fine because movement is super-quick, Quake-like. I think it’s the slowness of movement in FP adventure games that gets me.

          I can’t stand that my character’s pace is slower than my thoughts. Moving through the environment doesn’t present a challenge, unlike in a shooter or stealth game, in which any rate of movement I pick feels fine.

          In many (not all!) adventure games, I’m just moving around to form an idea of my environment and its puzzles, or to try something out or track a precise place or thing, so my brain gets impatient.
          In such instances, movement is not play, just delay.
          Something in my vestibular system gets annoyed at that discrepancy between expected and actual speed and I get nauseous. Or so I hypothesize.

      • lglethal says:

        I never knew this was a thing until I tried to introduce my fiancee to Portal and she started feeling sick. I’m curious, do you wear glasses? And if so, do you have one eye significantly stronger than the other? I’m wondering if that might be related to the cause behind it. Anyway just theorising, sorry to hear you cant enjoy these games. I hope someone finds out the reason and a repair for it one day! :)

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          magnificent octopus says:

          I wear glasses and have fairly different prescriptions in each eye, and I’m not usually bothered by first person games. I will sometimes feel a bit nauseous if I play for a few hours. And watching other people play first person can make me feel a bit sick, I think because I can’t control the head movements.

    • dontnormally says:

      Buy it on Steam then return it within 2 hours of play if it doesn’t work out for you. That is the legitimately recommended way to demo games nowadays.

  6. Michael Fogg says:

    So it’s System Shock without anything actually happening.

    • Daymare says:

      Sure.

      Following that train of thought, Portal is System Shock but you’re just walking through blue and orange doors over and over.

      • Michael Fogg says:

        It’s fair to say that Portal owes a great deal to SS, starting obviously with the main antagonist. It’s the spatial puzzles where it innovates. Judging from this writeup it can’t be said about Tacoma.

        • Daymare says:

          What I gathered from this review is that Tacoma’s about learning about a cast of characters and their interactions via environment, audio and animation, in the vein of Gone Home or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

          • Michael Fogg says:

            Yes, and my point is that’s little to show for, in games like Bioshock you also get to learn about the tribulations of a cast of characters, in the context of the whole friggin’ immersive sim.

          • Daymare says:

            This seems to be much more character-driven than Bioshock and the spaces you roam much more related to the people inhabiting them (following this review).

            Pip called it an “immersive theatre”. I’d think of it as that, more than a sim.

            Don’t get me wrong, I fucking loved all three Bioshocks (yes, even Infinite). But I also loved Dear Esther, so I’d like to think my taste is right in the middle of all those sorts of games/sims/experiences.

          • Daymare says:

            I’m also pretty sure this is a much smaller scale game than immersive sims like Bioshock or Dishonored. AFAIK it’s an indie studio who made this.

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            Phasma Felis says:

            @Michael Fogg: Great, so should we do away with racing games, since GTA lets you race *and* play golf?

            Sometimes a game just wants to do one thing really well. Cramming in extra mechanics doesn’t always make things better.

          • grrrz says:

            well, in bioshock infinte I found combat to be the tedious thing in between good story bits. I would have much prefer an adventure game set in this universe.

    • Jac says:

      This sounds more like Descent to me so will pick it up at some point as whilst I didn’t love Gone Home compared to similar games, it was still a fairly decent take on Wolfenstein 3D.

      System Shock was just Doom without anything happening.

  7. Veraticus says:

    About how many hours did it take you to finish the game?

    • grrrz says:

      lovely game. for those asking, it’s a very short game (about 3 to 5 hours I guess). btw GOG is having a special offer where you get event(0) for free if you buy Tacoma.

  8. cpt_freakout says:

    I was looking forward to this quite a lot, I loved Gone Home and this seems like it will scratch that particular itch. Gone Home had a crazy amount of detail – I remember people building stories out of the smallest of things; it’s ambient music made into a game, in the sense that depending on your commitment and willingness to imaginatively engage with it, you’ll ‘access’ different layers of understanding, some deeper than others, but none of them necessarily ‘worse’ than any other.

    PS: I lol’d at “bees are cool” in giant letters on a wall. THEY ARE!!

  9. PancakeWizard says:

    Wow I totally misjudged what this game was. From the trailer I thought it was going to be some kind of psychological thriller vibe as you try to discover what happened to the crew and avoid the same fate. How disappointing.

    If there’s no stakes, why wouldn’t I just flick through a National Geographic instead?

    • Daymare says:

      Why watch Dunkirk in cinema instead of reading the historical Wikipedia entry on the event?

      Why go into a wood instead of looking at photographs?

      Why read a book instead of its cliffnotes?

      I DON’T KNOW

  10. Premium User Badge

    KRVeale says:

    Also available DRM-free from the Humble Store! link to humblebundle.com

  11. keithzg says:

    Slight correction, at the end of the article it says

    Tacoma is out August 2nd for Windows and Mac, and is £13.49 from GOG and Steam.

    but it’s actually kinda-secretly out for Linux too already: link to steamcommunity.com

    Hey everyone,

    We just wanted to give an update on the Linux version of Tacoma.

    As stated and planned, Tacoma will be available for Linux on day one on Steam.

    Unfortunately due to some last-minute technical issues with launching on SteamOS, the Steam store page for Tacoma will not show Linux as a being officially supported. But once purchased from Steam, you will in fact be able to download and play on Linux. And when we’re able to address these lingering technical issues, we’ll look forward to checking the official Linux support box on Steam!

    We have tested the Linux version with our playtesters and are excited for you to play Tacoma on day one. We will also have our technical support sub-forum open on launch day to track and manage any technical issues that come up on Linux and other platforms, and appreciate your support reporting any issues you find.

    P.S. Is it just me or does the “notify me of follow-up comments by email” checkbox no longer actually send an email linking to the ability to confirm said comments subscription? (Yes, I’ve checked my Spam folder.)

  12. TheSplund says:

    Is this ADR1FT on rails? It sounds similar