Coming off of the heels of their previous game, Gone Home, Fullbright released Tacoma on August 2nd, 2017. Tacoma follows the same general idea as Gone Home, in that the player is dropped into an unfamiliar and uninhabited environment, and the goal of the game is to find out what happened.
The walking (and sometimes floating) simulator is a polarizing genre, but I’m a fan. There’s something intriguing about being thrown into a strange new situation and having to track back through what’s left behind in order to make sense of things. In this aspect, I think Tacoma does even better than its predecessor, if not for the sole fact that your missing sister’s disembodied narration is replaced with a more immersive plot device.
Much like the dark and stormy night of Gone Home, the creepy glitches and corruptions present in this game’s AR GUI set up the feeling that someone here has gone terribly, terribly wrong. This seems to be the real strength of Fullbright’s games; setting up a foreboding mood at the beginning and surprising the player with where the plot goes from there. Most of the major plot points are disseminated in AR recordings, which the player can rewind and move about as they please. The ability to peek into characters’ brain computers during these scenes allows the player a look at the private world of these characters, in addition or contrast to their outward speech and actions. Combine all that with incredibly detailed common environments and crew quarters and you end up with an exploration game that lets the player come to know each and every character without ever meeting them.
While the environments are finely detailed, the game… isn’t actually that much to look at. There’s one section at the very start that seems like a perfect opportunity to break out some stunning graphics, but sadly that doesn’t happen. As it stands, a view lauded to be beautiful is just kind of… there. I’m not a graphics evangelist, but space has the potential to be real goddamn pretty, so this feels like a missed opportunity.
The largest flaw I can find in Tacoma is one that I find with most other ‘walking sims’: that the genre would be served so much better with more direct puzzle solving. To me, the first person exploration game ought to be the direct evolution of the classic puzzle-adventure game. Think: the Nancy Drew point-and-clicks in full 3D. Although Fullbright games make puzzles in and of themselves out of finding every little bit of hidden story (see: the funny uncle subplot in Gone Home), I’d like to see a little more depth to the ol’ ‘find a keypad and backtrack until you find a code for it’ puzzle gameplay.
But honestly, Tacoma is still a damn good game and I look forward to coming back to it in a few months with pseudo-fresh eyes. It’s an experience of only a few hours (I played it in one sitting) and it’ll put you out $20. If that sounds like an investment you’d want to make, I highly suggest giving Tacoma a playthrough.