As a fan of Fullbright's prior game, Gone Home, it was with some anticipation that I sat down for a demo of the indie developer's latest title, Tacoma.
I'd managed to avoid any spoilers beforehand, so its premise came as a total surprise to me: It's a sci-fi game set 200,000 miles from Earth on a space station. That's definitely a long way from Gone Home's more humble origins, but as the demo continued, I could definitely see some similarities between the two games in terms of their structure and overall concept.
Tacoma is a centrifugal force station, similar to the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The central spindle is zero-g, but the crew spends most of its time in its outer rings where there's normal gravity. Six members of the crew populate the station full-time, and they're charged with maintaining the facility and overseeing cargo shipments from Earth to the Zenith lunar resort on the Moon's surface.
The crew can be posted in this very isolated location for more than a year at a time, so they have to learn to live together and rely on one other. They're also assisted by an advanced AI called ODIN, whose job it is to oversee the more technical aspects of the operation.
However, something has gone wrong – an incident that has required the full evacuation of the crew. This is where you come into game, playing as Amy Ferrier, an independent contractor who has been hired by the Venturis Corporation, the parent company of Tacoma, to retrieve the station AI and return it to Venturis' home base so it can be analyzed.
The demo opened as Amy enters the station, syncing her augmented reality system with the station's tracking system. The AR system plays a key role in the game, and by using it you can learn information about the space station and the crew. However, more importantly, you can also use it to piece together prior conversations between crew members, and play them back. Basically, ODIN records all crew interactions, which would normally be kept private, but because there's a fault on the station, Amy is able to replay select recordings. Not all of them, because some of them have become corrupted, but certainly enough to get a good idea of what's been going on.
The process of listening to the crew feels very voyeuristic. As you work your way around the station, you can discover and play back events and incidents that happened prior to your arrival, and hear the crew's chatter and watch their interactions. What's interesting is that some salient events might take place over several locations. For example, a character might talk to one particular person, and then leave the room while another comes in to chat to the person left behind. If you stay in the room, you can hear the conversation that happens there – but what of the person who left the room? What might they be doing? That's where the useful rewind option comes into play – after you've listened to the conversation in the current room, you can then rewind back to when the other person left the room, and instead follow them to see what they did. It might be nothing, but they might well have bumped into somebody else and had another conversation that you'd have otherwise missed had you not followed them out of the room.
These scenes can be found all over the space station, and the player has full control over being able to watch them at any time, slowly piecing together what happened to the Tacoma, and why its crew had to evacuate. It's this aspect of the game that reminds me of Gone Home. You're essentially putting together clues from different strands – only this time from conversations, rather than things like letters and audio journals.
Another aspect of the game that's reminiscent of Gone Home is that, like Fullbright's prior game, Tacoma is about people and their relationships with one another. In Gone Home's case, it was a family drama. With Tacoma, it's what happens when six people are put together in an extraordinary situation, and how it can pull them together… and indeed tear them apart.
I must say that I'm very intrigued by Tacoma. It's a walking – or floating when you're in the zero-g part of the space station – simulator that feels like it's evolving the genre with more scope and scale. At its heart you're still listening to conversations, but the way they play out is quite sophisticated, and there seem to be a lot of different facets to filter and interpret in terms of the crew and their complex relationships with one another – and, of course, the station's AI character, ODIN. It just feels like a classic sci-fi setup, and I'm really interested in seeing how it all plays out.
Although it currently doesn't have a firm release date, Tacoma is expected to ship in spring of next year on Xbox One, PC, Mac and Linux . If you're a fan of storytelling games, it's definitely worth keeping an eye on.