With the Xbox One-exclusive Tacoma, the team at Fullbright is expanding the first-person narrative adventure genre that it helped pioneer with Gone Home back in 2013, this time moving the mystery into space.
Like Gone Home, Tacoma takes place in a confined setting and promises to focus on the human stories that occur within it. That environment, however, being a space station in 2088, is almost as far from the mid-1990s rural manor house as possible, and the more spectacular place brings with it a slightly more bombastic narrative.
Players step into the shoes of Amy Ferrier, an AI Communications Specialist brought on board the Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma to discover what happened to make the station’s six crew members fall silent three days earlier.
At its heart, the title is a ‘walking simulator,’ as exploration and examination of the environment will make up the bulk of the gameplay. Nevertheless, Fullbright is taking steps to make sure that Tacoma is not a carbon copy of its previous title, and central to that is giving the player more options.
As such, rather than being drip-fed story details through passive interaction with various elements, the augmented reality recording system built into the space station will give players a more active role. Throughout the adventure, Amy will be able to download and replay the AR data, which creates holograms of the crew members as they interact with each other and the station’s on-board AI.
Given that the six characters are regularly separated, or engaged in smaller conversations away from the others, players have the ability to pause, rewind, and fast-forward the replays while moving about within the space to ensure that every piece of information is retrieved. This feature gives players a considerable degree of freedom in the pace at which they will explore the game’s story.
Details of that story are being kept under wraps for now, understandably given that it is the game’s main draw, but the trailers released so far hint that Tacoma will follow in the tradition of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with an AI that has become hostile causing issues for the crew. Whether that is the case or whether the problems that face the space station are more surprising than that remains to be seen.
The debut showing of Tacoma at The Game Awards 2014, with its mysterious narrative and fusion of Bioshock-inspired art deco architecture with more traditional sci-fi asceticism, was enough to capture the attention of Microsoft Game Studios, which inked a timed-exclusivity deal that was announced at E3 2015.
Following the game’s second appearance at that trade show, however, the design of Tacoma was revised, pushing it beyond its scheduled 2016 launch, and bringing with it a swathe of changes.
Chief among these was the expansion of the degree of interactivity, as the ability to manipulate the AR recordings was added during this period. The other change arising from this revision was the art style, as the elaborateness of the architecture was jettisoned in favour of a more minimalistic design that emphasises the bold lines and distinctive colour palette.
The new look debuted at E3 2016, ahead of a number of hands-on previews that have praised the multi-layered storytelling and intelligent gameplay systems that allows the narrative to emerge in a manner that is simultaneously organic and structured.
Since then, Fullbright and Microsoft have gone quiet on the game, but with a 2017 release officially announced, the hype machine should kick into high gear soon.
Despite its brevity, or perhaps partly because of it, Gone Home was one of the most profound and thoughtful games to release in 2013, earning the runner-up position for OnlySP’s Game of the Year. If Fullbright can recapture even a portion of that magic and craft another powerfully human story with Tacoma, the game will easily count among the best that 2017 has to offer, whenever it finally touches down.
The promise of an interesting evolution of the ‘walking simulator’ combined with the experience of a team that helped to define the genre makes Tacoma one to watch and earns it a place among OnlySP’s most anticipated games of 2017.