Let’s get this out in the open, Tacoma is what many of you would refer to as a ‘walking simulator’. What does that mean exactly? Well, this game sits more inline with the likes of What Remains of Edith Finch or Fullbright’s excellent Gone Home. There’s very little action or much of anything beyond exploration, for that matter, but for those that enjoy being immersed in story alone, Tacoma has you covered. You take on the role of Amy Ferrier, a lady that’s been sent on a mission to retrieve the AI data from a space station known as Tacoma. It’s not immediately clear as to what happened to the crew when you first get there, but as you begin to read and interact with the countless items within, the big picture starts to take shape.
You can do this by reading notes, observing objects, and (most interestingly) re-watching the latest moments of Tacoma’s crew. You have the ability to speed up, rewind, and pause these intriguing events. That does come in handy when you take into account that many of these memory-recordings do indeed take place over a wide portion of the ship. So it pays to watch one segment in one area, rewind, and move to the next. It may sound tedious on paper, but the amount of drama and depth in the way this story is delivered is just outstanding. It’s certainly not a game for everyone, that goes without saying. Me, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.
There’s a total of three sections within the Tacoma ship to explore, being Engineering, Medical, and Personnel. As aforementioned, the core aim of the game is to retrieve the data from each of these station areas. The amount of data that you need to withdraw is understandably abundant, which gives you all of the time you need to investigate and ponder the events that transpired. Much of what you can do with your time aboard Tacoma is optional, but it does make the world of difference if you allow yourself to be totally swallowed by the whole package. Entries, letters, AR desktops, and so on and so forth, will give you a deeper understanding of the fate of the crew, as well as their personalities and relationships towards one another.
One thing that has to be said is that Tacoma will not spoon feed you. Certain sections within the station will be blocked off, and it’s down to you to find out how to grant yourself access to certain areas. This does add a sense of puzzle solving to the mix, but it’s very light. You wont be stuck for too long, and I found that observing and deducting specific events would see me through without too much trouble. It’s such a surreal experience to be involved in, giving off a somewhat haunting yet deeply emotional chain of events that grabs your attention at all the right times.
There’s something undeniably interesting about watching these characters engage with each other as well as go about their every day life. You would expect a game, or at least a setting like this, to be littered with morbid moments and desperation, but Tacoma is surprisingly multi-layered on this front. There’s points in the game that will make you laugh, sob, and genuinely respect crew members for their distinct interactions and personalities. This for me is what made Tacoma stand out. It toys with so many of your emotions and so many different sections throughout play, and it’s something that will stay with me for a great deal of time to come.
One of my only complaints in regards to What Remains of Edith Finch was that there was a lack of things to interact with. Here however, there’s more than enough content to swim through. As alluded to above much of this is optional, but you would be doing not only yourself, but the game, a disservice if you don’t explore every nook and cranny. Fullbright have injected a considerable amount of care and detail for each and every character within, as well as the underlying events of life and civilisation as we know it. It’s really hard to explain even a drop of context without giving too much of the plot away, which wouldn’t at all be fair for me to do.
Take my word for it, if you can appreciate a story (and backstory) with vivid detail that you have to manually withdraw based on how deep you want to dive, you’ll thoroughly enjoy what’s on offer here. Unlike Gone Home, in which the player slowly unfolds the story to find the reasoning behind the plots backbone, Tacoma is in direct contrast. You enter the game and almost immediately know what happened aboard the ship, but piecing together the life that inhabited that ship is where the engagement sits. There’s so much drama, so much culture, so much indifference, it really is a well told story that hardly ever wears thin.
That being said, I do have some issues with Tacoma. I couldn’t help but feel as though certain sections in the game felt rushed and served as nothing more than filler. Furthermore, there are some story threads that just don’t have much relevance or fit in with the overall arc. Mercifully these parts of the game are few and far between, but they do indeed stand out to the point of being overly noticeable. It’s one thing to be hopelessly submerged in a game that’s so rich, but it’s another thing entirely to be taken out of that immersion as you wonder why the hell you’re in these quarters reading notes that don’t do much to bulk-up the story or respective character. It’s not something that pulls the game down entirely, nowhere near it, but it is indeed dominant when it occurs.
Visually, Tacoma is wonderful in both presentation and design. The environments are full of detail and interesting titbits, which ultimately goes hand in hand to push forward a station that feels alive, and (ironically) homely. The voice acting is also superbly delivered, with each cast member throwing out the right amount of emotion and exactly the right pace. There’s not much of a soundtrack, in fact I barely even noticed it, but I guess that’s really the point. It throws out yet another layer of solitude but manages to hit the right notes just when it counts. Fullbright have clearly put the effort in on most fronts, resulting in an experience that’s more than worth your time if you fancy the formula.
Tacoma isn’t going to be for everyone, which is part and parcel of the formula it adopts. Despite some issues with sections of the game feeling rushed and used for filler, Tacoma is an exceptional experience that proves ‘walking simulators’ can be every bit as engaging as any game from another genre. There’s a great sense of life, connection, culture, and emotion to be pulled from Tacoma. All of which is tied together by some stellar visuals and solid voice acting. It is however a game that you’ll get more from if you pace yourself out and explore every nook and cranny, and if that’s something you can throw yourself at, you will not be disappointed with the overall package.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.