Tacoma's weakest point is its optimism. Maybe it's me, I love desperation, I love sadness and bleak, gloomy places so part of what I love in walking simulators is the absence of people which inevitably creates a tension.
But Tacoma, the new game from the makers of the wonderful Gone Home, found a way to put people back in the formula and while the result is certainly interesting from at least a couple of angles, it makes me pine for the missing humanity of most of the other games in the genre. Not only your character speaks, but you will get to spend time with the crew of the Tacoma in a much more physical way than in the hybrid way of Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, or the radio fleshless friendship of Firewatch.
I was mentioning the optimism. The story, without spoilers, is about a space station where 6 not particularly cool characters end up stranded and with no oxygen. You are the contractor tasked with recovering the AI files and basically what are VR tapes of what happened. The VR tapes idea is awesome: you "play" VR recordings of past events and have to move around following certain characters or some others to hear what they say or see what they do. Rewinding or Fastforwarding is made very easy and so the whole thing flows really well. Having to re-play a recording is not a chore considering you can move around as you please and rewatch the whole thing, or parts of it, from wherever you like and across different rooms. It's neat. I am not sure if it has been done before but it works really well as a device to advance the plot as opposed to the usual note-fiding or playing of disembodied audio snippets.
But the biggest problem is that there is never any intensity in what is going on. You are on an abandoned ship where it is easy to imagine everybody died and yet you can't grasp the gravity of the situation in the environment nor in the actual scenes and interactions of the crews you get to watch. It looks like everyone is really cool and prepared to die, so efficient, so wise. Don't get me wrong, I don't miss stereotypical freak outs or someone grabbing a weapon and threatening to blast the hull or whatever. But as storytellers the people at Fullbright failed to convey emotions in the story they were trying to tell. Not everything has to be about desperation and pain, and I can appreciate a group of developers that make a point to stay away from tropes of violence and aggression, yet the whole story ended up for me as too light, too delicate, a bit tasteless as you would tailor a serious story if you had to make sure even children could watch it without parental guidance.
Eventually, the ship looks only OK (if barely). Gone is the extra detailed Home of Gone Home, and while you can still pick up every single thing and manipulate it to look at all labels, posters, business cards, or bottom of a cup in the game, the sterile, metallic plates of a modern space station simply can't have the same charisma of a mansion. They are duller by definition.
What I liked the most, all things considered, is the ending. Once again Fullbright skillfully misdirects you only to deliver a cute plot twist that, given the soft and gentle paradigm of this game, I couldn't help but appreciate, but I walked away not completely satisfied. This is a short
game story that suffers by a literal lack of punch. As a result, it's harder to care too much about it.
But is it fun? Toothlessly maybe.