Fullbright’s Tacoma is one of the best games that I’ve played this year. It’s also the most compelling narrative, in a year that has seen the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Legend Of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Injustice 2, and Persona 5. While the gameplay is minimal in Tacoma (players will just walk through the space station’s corridors and decipher video logs), the story is what makes the experience flow.
Tacoma follows Amy Ferrier, as she’s sent to investigate what happened to the crew aboard the titular space station, the Tacoma. While not a horror game in the slightest, Tacoma’s abandoned hallways and limited use of a score make the two-hour journey unsettling, to say the least. What makes Fullbright’s latest game shine above the competition is the fact that the story is so unique in its delivery.
Amy can uncover video logs by walking into specific areas of the vessel. During these sections, players become acquainted with the crew, which includes medic, Sareh Hasmadi, operations specialist, Clive Siddiqi, botanist, Andrew Dagyab, network specialist, Natali Kuroshenko, mechanical engineer, Roberta Williams, and station administrator, E.V. St. James. Although the game is short, Fullbright fleshed out the narrative by creating a cast of excellent and relatable characters.
Each character has an interesting backstory, told in a nonlinear way. While traversing through the Tacoma, players will discover video fragments that will provide more context as to what happened before you arrived. What kept me glued to the TV screen was the fact that the time stamps on each video logs revealed something shocking. Some events transpired mere hours before Amy landed on the Tacoma, while others occurred half a year before the game began.
These instances caught me off guard because they required me to put all of the pieces together. With a notepad in hand, I started writing down when each video log took place, to come up with a timeline of events to have as a reference point. While not necessary to enjoy the game, this practice helped alleviate some of the confusion I was having at the start of the adventure. If you decide to write down notes as I did, I would suggest using them after completing Tacoma a first time. Enjoying the game as Fullbright intended to is the best course of action, but if you like the game as much as me, playing through it a second time will be a satisfying experience.
The nonlinear storytelling compliments Tacoma because it causes the player to be attentive to what is going on. There are plenty of video games that try to tell an intricate story, but the delivery falls flat. Tacoma features an extraordinary narrative that excels because of the method in which it’s told. If Amy just entered the ship and plot elements were delivered generically, the game would be another dull, forgettable experience. Instead, Tacoma encourages players to venture off the straightened path. In my first playthrough, I ended up missing a video log. After discovering it on my second time during the game, it added more context to the relationship between two of the characters. While it didn’t have much to do with the overall narrative, I liked these characters so much that any additional information enriched my experience with the game.
The most interesting mechanic in Tacoma is Amy’s ability to manipulate video logs. This skill means that she can rewind and fast forward each clip that she deciphers. Normally, this gimmick wouldn’t be something to gush over, but in Tacoma, so many things are happening at the same time. Amy can freely walk around the room once a log is deciphered, observing how each of the characters react to specific situations.
Early on in the game, the crew is getting ready to celebrate Obsolescence Day, a holiday in the future. Clive Siddiqi and Andrew Dagyab are prepping a cake with Odin, the ship’s artificial intelligence, and E.V. St. James is in the conference room recording a video update for their employers. Elsewhere, Sareh Hasmadi is having a meaningful conversation with Odin, while Roberta Williams and Natali Kuroshenko are gossiping and planning their lives together after the job on the Tacoma comes to an end. Although each of these characters meet up at one point during the video log, each of them is doing their own thing before that gathering.
Every video record follows the same format, where players can hover over which ever character they’d like. The option to rewind and fast forward clips allow players to uncover different narrative elements as well as flesh out the various back stories for the crew members. It’s a unique style of storytelling that I wish other developers would take inspiration from. Sure, I love open world games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Fallout 4, and Mass Effect 2, but the massive scale of the narrative often takes me out of the experience. For example, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has countless books full of lore, tall tales, and information regarding the world within the game. In the same vein, Mass Effect 2 has a massive codex that often becomes overwhelming at times.
Tacoma took a unique approach to the “Walking Simulator” genre. While I’m a fan of games like the brilliant Firewatch, and The Park, the narratives in those games are straightforward and provide no replay value. Despite Tacoma’s short length, Fullbright delivered a masterful video game with a story that has been stuck with me long after the credits rolled. It’s weird to think that I know more about the six crew members from the Tacoma, more than I do about characters from games where I put in 60-70 hours.
This unusual style of storytelling was a huge gamble, but in the end, the risk paid off. All the best games and movies have fans talking about the experience for years to come, and I think Tacoma will be one of those games. There is such a rich world set up by the studio that doesn’t come into play, but I wonder if Fullbright is planting the seeds for a game set in a much larger universe. One thing is for sure, Fullbright is one of the best development teams in the business right now when it comes to memorable narrative adventures. Tacoma is an excellent follow-up to Gone Home, and I can’t wait to see what the team has in store for gamers next. One thing is for sure, Fullbright seems fully intent on revolutionizing narratives in video games.