Tacoma review - page 2

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The second function is to provide you with an "AR desktop", which you can toggle with the TAB key. This brings up a series of icons, floating in front of you, that you can click on to show messages from your employer, a map of the station, and a few other things, with the items you click on appearing off to the side so you have to look around a bit to read them. At various points, you can also access the crew's desktops in a similar way.

The last and most distinctive function is to show you the AR recordings themselves. When you walk into an area where a recording is available, you're prompted to press space to view it. Any crew members in the area appear as wireframe skeletons fleshed out with bodies shown in graduated colour, going from nearly white at the top of the head to more saturated at the feet, and each is colour-coded based on their job. They also have icons on their backs, and looking directly at them brings up their name and job title on the AR display, just to make absolutely sure you know who you're looking at. The recording then starts to play, as if they're there with you but can't see you.

Each recording is pretty short, only two or three minutes, but because most of the crew are usually present, having their own individual conversations, there's a lot going on. Thankfully, you can pause, rewind and fast-forward the recording using a bar at the bottom of the screen. I found myself following one conversation through, then rewinding, looking around, and playing back through again following somebody else until I'd seen everything. It's a wonderful way of presenting quite complex environments and interactions in a manageable way, especially since the interactions, and the people involved in them, ebb and flow.

At various points, the recorded crew members access their AR desktops and, if you're standing close enough when they do, you can click on them to gain access yourself. The station's logs have become corrupted, so not everything's accessible, but this is another way to get to know them and find out what they're thinking. To help you find everything, the points when desktops are opened are marked on the bar, with the appropriate icon flashing when they're actually open and an open folder hovering in front of the relevant character.

A small complicating factor here is that when one of the crew opens a door in the recording, you'll still need to open the door yourself, and some of the doors are locked with passcodes. As with Gone Home, there are essentially no puzzles, just the occasional need to hunt for a passcode or key. These aren't hard to find, particularly for the seasoned adventurer, but they do help to guide your progress and make sure you see the story in the right order. And speaking of progress, your employers need you to download the logs from each section (or at least pair of sections) in order, and just to make sure you do, all the other hatches are sealed. That’s for the best, though: the story wouldn’t make as much sense experienced out of order.

As you wander the Tacoma, you can interact with most of what you see, picking up one item at a time, spinning it around by dragging with the mouse and zooming in by right-clicking. Since this is about exploration, not puzzles, most of these are there simply for atmosphere, so not having a conventional inventory isn't really an issue. Instead, you'll find yourself, for example, picking up a book, reading the dustjacket, and then putting it back. There are also basketball hoops waiting for your zero-G slam dunk, a pool table with balls waiting to be potted, and fallen letters that can be returned to a sign, among other distractions. It felt both fascinating and slightly ghoulish to be poring through people's lives like this, but – like every aspect of this artfully-designed experience – it helped to draw me in and make me a part of what was going on.

If Tacoma has a weakness, it's the slightly-cliched underlying plot. This isn't a long game – about 2-3 hours for most, depending on how much of a completist you are – so the story is more a matter of broad strokes than intricate detail, but even so it's one that anyone who’s seen more than a handful of sci-fi movies will have heard before. None of that matters, though: it's hard to feel that you're just going through the motions when you're surrounded by the people who are caught up in it, struggling and fighting and refusing to give in. It particularly got to me when, towards the end, I was getting to know the crew so well that I started to anticipate how they'd react and what they'd do, even down to the way they'd phrase their messages.

The world-building is likewise a mindful interpretation of a standard sci-fi trope, with divided nations (Amy hails from the California Republic) that are starting to play second fiddle to corporations that run their own universities and have turned Loyalty into an actual currency. While some campaign against abuses (E.V. is a staunch unionist), others just try to keep their heads down and make the best of it and, again, it's the groundedness of their reactions that prevent this aspect from feeling tired.

As the credits rolled on Tacoma, I was left feeling thoughtful and slightly dazed, as I let go of my friends from the past three hours and tried to readjust to the real world. The few small plotting issues pale in comparison to the sheer immersiveness and power of the experience, from the gorgeous graphics, innovative AR features and dramatic space vistas to the quieter, though no less intense, moments with the crew. It’s an experience that will stay with me, one I know I'll be revisiting again in the future, and it comes heartily recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in good storytelling.

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What our readers think of Tacoma

Posted by SamuelGordon on Aug 14, 2017

Way too short but worth it

Good: - Great gaming mechanics : it's your job to recover Tacoma's virtual videodata and find out what happened. You can fastforward,pauze or rewind these segments. I recommend you turn off the help in the options, makes it much more interesting. -Lot's of...

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