Huston, we have a problem; FBT won’t leave Tacoma.
By 2088, megacorps have taken over the world. And space. The only strange thing about that is the idea any company other than Amazon will exist in 2088.
The Venturis Corporation, alongside its competitors, have space-hotels, apartment ‘blocks’ and retirement homes orbiting planets, where space-stations that service them are controlled by AIs with small support and research teams. An investigator, 'Amy' is sent by Venturis to the Tacoma, a station hub whose crew died after a worker-incident caused it to lose oxygen. Her mission is to discover what happened and retrieve the station’s AI.
Unlike Fulbright’s magnificent Gone Home, this being set in the future and in space means you don’t instantly connect with the sci-fi surroundings. Floating through the hub, uncovering fragments of the AI’s recordings and by extension, experiencing the crew’s final moments feels distant, and the way we reveal the events is hard to connect with. Amy has a VR system that allows her to rewind, pause and play footage as a 3D recording, but the crew aren’t displayed as real people, unless the entire crew dressed up like crash-test dummies.
But soon the VR system becomes great fun. You’re essentially rewinding time, watching the crew move forward or back, pausing, listening, learning what happened and getting to know them. If you’re eavesdropping on the engineers, that means the medic and botanist are chatting somewhere else at the same time; so you pause, find them, rewind and listen in. At first it’s like being invisible and skulking around a house-share, but once you crack the VR’s possibilities, you’re listening in on 4 or 5 different conversations, picking up cross-references and observations, going back to hear the reaction once someone’s out of earshot. Wish I could do this in real life; it’s like when you walk into a room and everyone stops talking, now you can stay in the room and rewind to find out.
The characters are incredibly well-rounded, realistic and likeable; but they’re just caretakers, barely required beyond Union rights that dictate an AI can’t operate without human oversight, and they discuss becoming obsolete, the impact on their lives and families. Conversations reveal how workers are completely reliant on the megacorps, paid in shares and offered housing, education and so on; it’s subtle, but there’s commentary on the practices of Amazon and the like, and how modern work practices could reflect the indentured servitude of old.
I can’t believe how invested/nosy I become. You can be watching the engineers and the medic walks in, but then you wonder what she was up to before, so rewind and follow her, discovering she was talking to the Administrator about something, then follow the Administrator to discover she was in a relationship with the Mission Specialist, then realise you’re not here for the goss; they mentioned something about the engineers, so spin back and return to them to relisten, realising what seemed like chat is actually relevant now you have the background; separating mission-critical comments from the day to day griping allows you to slowly focus on the story, and care about the characters.
As a walking sim - well, a listening sim - there are things to do around the station outside of tracking the events. You can find recordings detailing the team’s downtime, passcodes and keys that let you further explore the characters and provide background, explaining some of their reactions and motivations. Much like Gone Home there’s a level of intimacy to it, listening in on the engineer’s romance, reading messages between the Botanist and his partner back on Earth, noticing how they all confide in Odin, the Tacoma’s honey-voiced AI.
Odin, the floating triangle is a great character too. I utterly trust him because he’s voiced by the same guy who played Milton in Minerva’s Den. But can he be trusted? He's like Alexa, always listening. Of course, any AI in charge of a space station under threat is going to draw comparisons with good old HAL, and Odin was ‘raised’ by Venturis, who would rather just have Odin in charge.
Midway through listening to the Botanist complaining about something, he’s interrupted by an explosion. Odin explains debris hit the hub, rupturing their oxygen tanks which in turn knocked out communications. With only 50 hours of air left and no way to call for help, the team agrees to a radical plan, which we already assume didn't work.
I’ve only been at this game an hour and I really hope they made it. I start to struggle with exploring areas that characters entered and I can't find a recording of their return. It’s heart-breaking to watch the medic try to remain professional knowing what's coming. I’m all over the place, making sure I’ve listened to every scrap of recording, witnessing them basically prepare for death.
They’re real, regular working people with their own insignificant problems that mean the world to them. And it’s interesting to watch how they each deal with the situation, their professional face in public and personal reaction when they find time to be alone.
I’m practically floating on the edge of my seat as the plans start to come together, and then I spot something that might have tipped me to their fate; I can barely bring myself to press play when I realise there’s a recording. On finally reaching the ending it was emotional, and the right way to do it. Some were disappointed in the way it played out, but I found it near-perfect
Even after witnessing everything, I was loathe to leave behind the digital ghosts of the crew. But the fate of the Tacoma solved, I return to my ship for a final ending that just felt rushed, a sudden twist that makes you go ‘oh…’ and then, credits. Oh.
Tacoma doesn’t quite have the emotional heft that Gone Home did – it’s odd, considering that was just a woman nosing around her family’s drawers, while Tacoma explores how people face death, but it’s still a moving, engrossing game and the VR recording is genius – if we’d just been watching video recordings like Her Story it wouldn’t have worked. This way, we’re there with them and at times, I wanted to rewind their lives for real and warn them. The fact that we never really see them as physical people actually became one of the strongest aspects of it, you project onto the ghost-like images.
It is short – maybe a little over two hours if you really rinse it. It’s timed perfectly though, I’d just have liked to have seen more about Venturis and what happened next, but in truth I was just kinda sad to be leaving the Tacoma and the future Fulbright created, as ominous as it is. One thing I never discovered though - what happened to the cat? I might need to pop back to Tacoma and make sure the kitty's okay ...