Walking Simulator

Review: Tacoma

The walking simulator is a relatively modern genre for video games, one where story takes precedence over shooting stuff in the face, and with a great story these games can be powerful, showcasing just what the medium can do and lending credence to the growing art form of games.

My first experience with this was The Fullbright Company’s first game, Gone Home. It topped my game of the year list upon release and it’s themes have stuck with me ever since. When the developer announced its next game I was excited to say the least, and while Tacoma won’t stay with me the way Gone Home did, it is a great game in its own right.

Set aboard Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma, the game places you in the shoes of Amy, the person sent to investigate what happened on board and where exactly the crew have disappeared to. On paper, this makes it sound like a horror game, where some unknown alien menace has infested the station, but that is far from the truth. Tacoma connects you to the on board A.I via an augmented reality interface and from there the meat of the gameplay plays out.

‘Plays out’ is the right term here, as walking into certain rooms will net you a A.R. scene, recorded at some point before your character boarded the station. This could be as simple as one of the crew sat on their bunk playing guitar or as complex as a party where everyone is present. Watching these scenes delivers the story as to what happened to these people, but it also presents something games can struggle with: real lives.

The crew of the Tacoma are real people, they each have families, friends and pasts. They are struggling with something unique to them, which could be something to do with their family or their quest to do better in the gym. It’s brilliant because it makes you feel like the whole situation could be something that actually happens in real life, I got to the end and thought about the news reports that would show each crew member, and the people speculating on what is going on up there.

Unfortunately, while all this makes for a compelling and well paced game, it simply didn’t grab me in the way Gone Home did. That game's tale of a girl returning to her family home to find things aren’t as peachy as they might appear spoke to me on a fundamental level, and even four years on from it’s release I recommend it to people. I am fairly certain I won’t be doing the same with Tacoma.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a great game, and I suspect if this is your first attempt at a walking simulator then you might have a similar reaction to what I had with the developer's previous effort, I just wasn’t pulled into the world in the same way, though I will admit I was very happy and satisfied with the game's conclusion.

The good news is that the main set of characters are so diverse you are bound to find someone who speaks to you. For me it was the medic, Serah, a compelling character with a great back story, who is also dealing with a medical issue a little too familiar. Each character, each little vignette, pushes, compels you to seek out the next, not to complete the game but to find out what happened to these characters.

I just wish I got into it more, and as strange as this might sound stupid from someone whose top ten movie list has eight sci-fi films on, but the sci-fi setting actually harms Tacoma. It puts it just a step out of reach, where other games in the genre I have played were all set in the modern day, it makes for the relatively mundane but compelling story to shine through.

The space station setting here means I spend more time looking out of windows and marveling at the artistic style that getting in touch with the story, and more time wanting to learn about the universe it resides in rather than getting to know all the characters.

Tacoma is a great game, it is well paced, has a great story and a great cast of characters. My issues with it stem from the setting, which doesn’t gel with the tale being told, however cleverly it might play out. If you are looking to try a game of this style, there are far worse options out there, and as previously stated it might well give you the same reaction I had with its predecessor.

It is a worthy follow up to a stunning game, only takes a couple of hours to complete, the perfect way to spend an evening.