Tuesday, March 9, 2021


Back in 2013, The Fullbright Company made waves with Gone Home, which ushered in the “walking simulator” genre. However, I wasn’t as impressed by it and didn’t pay attention to their 2017 follow-up game, Tacoma. After I revisited Gone Home, I felt more inclined to try Tacoma and found that it happened to be on sale for $3 on Steam as opposed to $15 (though due to how Steam’s bundle system works, I got it for only $2.89). A couple hours later, I felt that while Tacoma improved from Gone Home to an extent, I might have felt ripped off if I had paid full price.

Like its predecessor, Tacoma tasks you with searching rooms for clues to solve a mystery. In this case, the story takes place in 2088 and you play as Amitjyoti "Amy" Ferrier, who was assigned by the Venturis Corporation to enter the abandoned space station Tacoma, recover AI data from each of its sections and obtain the physical wetware of the station’s AI, ODIN. During her assignment, she has an AR device that lets her see what happened to the station’s crew, both during their daily lives and the events leading up to the station’s abandonment.

Considering how I felt about the narrative of Gone Home, I thought Tacoma had generally stronger writing. Unlike Gone Home’s disconnect between the atmosphere and actual storyline, Tacoma feels like a sci-fi story from start to finish. Watching well-acted AR logs and reading information pulled from AR desktops gives you more insight into the lives of the crew, as well the state of a world under the control of hypercorporations. Although the idea of a future where corporations run everything is far from original, films like Wall-E and Idiocracy for instance, it still presents some interesting ideas like people earning credit and paying for things with loyalty to a specific corporation, with Amazon, Hilton and Carnival mentioned by name. The true nature of the accident aboard the Tacoma was also pretty messed up and I was generally okay with the payoff, though it didn’t have much foreshadowing, if at all.

Tacoma has an interesting setting.

Tacoma is also more visually interesting than Gone Home, with a pleasing aesthetic and an attention to detail that makes it clear they put a lot of effort into designing both a new world and making the Tacoma look very lived-in. At times, there are great glitching effects that show you just how corrupt the AR data got before Amy Ferrier arrived, which pop up more frequently as the player nears the end. There’s also spatial audio, which, while not essential to gameplay, was a nice touch.

As for the actual gameplay, if you’ve played Gone Home, then you know exactly what to expect from Tacoma, which means walking around and picking up mostly pointless objects. At first, it seems like the only change is that it’s partially a “floating simulator”, but there are some actual puzzles in the form of the AR recordings. Playing and replaying AR recordings doesn’t just let you recover more data and view more of the story from the different locations of the crewmembers. By looking at specific environmental details or viewing AR recordings at certain angles, you can learn passcodes that let you access certain plot-critical doors. This approach felt comparatively refreshing, as it made Tacoma feel closer to more traditional views of a game and didn’t rely exclusively on narration to move the plot forward.

Rewatching AR logs helps illuminate more of the story.

Of course, I did find a few issues with the experience that, unfortunately, held it back from greatness. Loading a save takes a painfully long time and the transitions to unexplored sections of the station take a bit too long, with loading obviously hidden behind lengthy elevator rides. Like Gone Home, Tacoma has a very linear and borderline on-rails design in how you experience and piece together the story, with the game more or less forcing you to experience it in a specific order. Once you get to a section you can go through the rooms there in any order, but it still subtly suggests a certain path. With the improvements to environmental puzzles, I did find the only two key-based puzzles rather underwhelming for the effort. Most importantly, however, you can beat the entire game in roughly two hours, three at most if you choose to actually read the info from AR desktops like I did.

While Tacoma is somewhat of an improvement over Gone Home, it’s hard to recommend to anyone who didn’t already like that game, since it’s still more of the same but in a different setting. Regardless, if you want to experience it for yourself, consider picking it up during a sale or even during the rare opportunity a distributor offers it for free.

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