Uncover details of a tense space mystery through cool AR recordings.
Witnessing six absent strangers’ private moments aboard an empty space station left me feeling a little gross. Oddly enough, that’s a good thing. My mild discomfort at invading their intimate privacy is a testament to how well Tacoma’s characters are written and acted. I dug through their belongings, watched arguments and embraces, and discovered what happened when a dwindling oxygen supply forced the group to make rash decisions. Though I wish I’d had more time to get to know the crew better, Tacoma builds an intriguing and disturbing future world that’s surprisingly well-developed even within its short playtime of three to four hours.
Playing as a contracted AI communications specialist, I boarded the Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma after the emergency had been resolved. I wandered around its three well-designed sections and watched ghost-like augmented-reality (AR) recordings that reveal what happened there while my Nintendo 3DS-like device downloaded the station’s AI data. It was refreshing to be on an abandoned station without fretting over whether or not something was going to attack me. Instead, I got to take my time as I examined the station’s futuristic objects (like cup ramen and beer), played basketball in zero gravity, and of course watched the recordings.
Owned by space-travel and hospitality corporation Venturis, the entire Tacoma station and its crew are monitored and recorded at all times through the AR system. It’s a disturbing future (the company’s tag is “Venturis is There, No Matter Where You Are,” and that includes showers), but it turns out that one benefit of people living in a surveillance state makes things interesting for future archeologists. Developer Fullbright’s vision of the future space travel is impressive, especially with its depiction of a grotesque evolution of capitalism. In 2088, your loyalty to a brand is worth money, and it can even shape your family’s future. This feudalistic concept and other futuristic problems are explored in detail throughout Tacoma.
The voice actors put on an excellent performance, so emotions are conveyed clearly.
The AR recordings are the meat of Tacoma’s storytelling. Upon finding and loading a recording, I followed the crash-test-dummy-looking projections of each of the six crew members throughout various rooms and listened to their conversations. Even though the crew is represented in such a peculiar way, and I was happy to see they have a shred of privacy by obscuring their real faces, and I didn’t have a hard time believing they’re depicted this way for security reasons. It wasn’t difficult to connect with the projections, either; I almost involuntarily turned away from them once or twice during more intimate moments and sympathized greatly with one of the crewmembers when she left the group and immediately had a panic attack. The voice actors put on an excellent performance, so emotions are conveyed clearly.
All or most crewmembers are usually present in every scene, so I was encouraged to experience each recording in different ways as I followed members to hear their part. This is made easy with the rewind, fast-forward, and pause functions that manipulate the timeline which shows the length of the recording. The timeline was also helpful in showing when a crewmember opened their AR desktop, which can also be accessed during the recordings. Interacting with the desktops and notes left throughout the station is optional, but they’re important resources for gathering more context about each crew member’s issues, interests, and relationships.
Adding some nuance to the storytelling, most of the AR recordings are presented out of chronological order. The most important, revealing scenes are of course at the end, but it’s easy to piece together the timeline. The older, more corrupted recordings found in crewmember’s quarters also provided good insight into how they spend their time alone. I wish there had been more of this – though each of the three areas focuses a little more on the personal issues of two or three people, it would have been nice to see more isolated interactions to get a better sense of their day-to-day life in this interesting space. Fullbright has written a fascinating world and I wanted to learn more about it, even if those scenes didn’t tie directly into the main mystery.
Sareh’s interactions with the station’s AI, ODIN, were my favorites.
Generally, though, I came out of Tacoma feeling like I knew the crew pretty well. I greatly enjoyed learning about their issues and how those affected their relationships with everyone else on the station. Each member felt genuine and unique. I particularly liked getting to know Sareh Hadmadi, the station’s medic. She’s one of two characters that aren’t in an on-station romance, and her backstory and interactions with the station’s AI, ODIN, were my favorites. The crew relationships are great, too. The two couples on board provided very different perspectives on the toll living together in space for a year takes on a relationship. And then of course, how they function when that station begins to fail. Without spoiling anything, the evolution of the crew’s problems and their resolution is greatly satisfying.
Exploring the Tacoma station itself was rather fun too. The zero-gravity hub was fun for basketball and tossing drones, but I was relieved that Tacoma mostly takes place in artificial gravity since the station is rather small, excluding the beautiful botany area. I did enjoy that nearly every room had plenty of windows to allow the sunlight to tumble in as the station rotates. The first area had the most to do and explore (including darts and a pool table I played with for far too long), but as I progressed there were fewer locks, key codes, and things to play with. The story is interesting enough to let Tacoma stand on its own, but the few tastes of activities I got made me hungry for more.