Fullbright’s follow up to Gone Home is bigger in scope and features more characters, but manages to maintain the environmental storytelling and depth its 2013 predecessor is known for.
In the year 2088, The Venture Corporation sends player-character Ami to investigate its Tacoma space station. Her main job is to retrieve the AI component for Odin, the main AI that helped run and coordinate the ship. Along the way to find the AI core, Ami will run into remnants of those who were once on-board the station in the form of recorded VR memories. Ami — and you as the player — can view, rewind, and fast-forward these events to see them play out from different angles and piece together an understanding of what happened on the ship, as well as the relationships of the eight people who once occupied the station.
Tacoma, like Gone Home, heavily relies on environmental storytelling. In Gone Home, a lot of the story was told through notes or audio from cassette tapes found about the house. In Tacoma, there is still a lot to be uncovered by exploring every nook and cranny of the space station. You’ll learn a lot more about people’s lives if you explore their rooms and rifle through their belongings, and you’ll gain a much better understanding of the world in 2088 by piecing together information and events from other emails and messages.
However, most of your time in Tacoma is spent watching holographic virtual characters play out sometimes meaningless conversations in front of you. Fortunately, the crew aboard Tacoma are interesting for the most part, on account of the fantastic writing and voice work from all involved. The crew is varied with different races, genders and sexual orientations, which helps them feel real and keeps them from coming across like stale archetypes. Discovering each character, their role on the station and their personal lives is part of Tacoma‘s fun. This is a game about discovery and, much like Gone Home, you’ll get more out of Tacoma and its characters the more you invest in learning about them.
The VR recordings you will find in your time around Tacoma are also presented out of order, which often injected more fun into the slow, lethargic nature of building towards the big story reveals.
I had a favourite character on the team, who I found especially interesting. I enjoyed her interactions with the station’s AI, Odin, as well as interactions with another character towards the end of the game. But each crew member had riveting stories and I can see different people growing attached to different characters by the game’s end.
Exploring Tacoma is fun in itself. The station has a few settings more interesting than others, such as the plant botany area. I experienced an eerily similar vibe to Rapture from the Bioshock series, which is odd considering that game took place underwater, and Tacoma is clearly in space.
The frame-rate issues I ran into while playing are the biggest problem with exploring the station. The game would sometimes drop to 20ish FPS at random times, once even dropping to a couple frames as I transitioned between different areas of the ship. I was riding on an elevator-type machine and a poster appeared in front of me, but I couldn’t read it because it would disappear before the frame-rate allowed me to regain full control.
When you reach the end of Tacoma you will (presumably) have uncovered a bigger story at play, and while it’s interesting, it doesn’t hit home the same way Gone Home did. Tacoma never really wraps its main narrative point into the characters you have been watching for the past few hours and it can cause a disconnect by the end of the journey. It was never supposed to be about those eight crew members, but they’re the ones you invest in and get to know. They honestly just end up feeling like ghosts rather than real people.
I often forgot about Ami herself as I navigated the ship. She speaks only at the start and end of the game, which I suppose is more realistic than a character speaking to themselves constantly like most video game characters, but she never becomes fully formed — or even interesting — until the game’s end. I felt like I was playing as an empty HUD most the time, forgetting I did know the name of the character I was controlling. Compared to Gone Home, where the main character Katie is always aware and you know you are playing her journey, Tacoma just feels off. The eight characters you learn about aboard the ship don’t make up for the uninteresting Ami.
Exploring and learning about Tacoma‘s world and the crew is a lot of fun. I was always interested to learn more; to turn over every object in someone’s room, to pilfer someone locker, to judge their book collection. This is the heart of Tacoma. Fullbright succeeds in what it did so well in Gone Home again, with some fantastic writing and environmental storytelling.
Review By Dylan Blight