As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of the video game platform Steam. It’s my go-to for all games. But Epic Games has been doing some really impressive things since Covid kicked in and one of those things is giving 2 games away each month. Color me impressed! I had just finished a game (that I will talk about soon) and had a day to wait before the next game I wanted arrived online, so I opened Epic Games to see what the freebies were. I found a game that looked moderately interesting called Tacoma. Tacoma retails for $20, so I was very pleased with my find. It’s listed as a Walking Simulator/Adventure. Adventure games are typically games you have to figure something out; think “The Da Vinci Code” but in video game format. A Walking Simulator sounds sort of lame because, thankfully, I can walk and don’t need a simulator for it. But I can’t walk around in space, or float in zero-g, so that’s certainly something! I don’t go for a lot of these, but when the story is this good, it makes all the difference.
You play Amy who, through the use of a holographic AI, can reconstruct the events that left the Tacoma in the state its in. Now, I didn’t read anything before I started playing so I didn’t know what I was even doing on the space station I had just docked at but pretty quickly found out. As you walk into a room or an area, you are able to reconstruct what went on. Clips typically run 2-3 minutes during which time you can move around and follow each character to hear what they have to say, read their computer logs, and just get a sense of what life was like on board this place. This may entail rewinding those 2 minutes more than once to hear what different people are saying in different rooms, but it’s done very easily with the Q or E keys for rewinding or fast-forwarding, respectively. Within the first room, as you hear people talking, there is an explosion and most of the air on the space station is wiped out and there is no communication with home. The crew of 6 was left on their own. You are here to find out what happened.
I was impressed by the game far more than I expected to be. When I saw the trailer, I noticed that the crew are roughly people-shaped blobs without faces and with stick figure skeletons. Each of the crew has an icon on their back to let you know their roles. (Plant for botanist, + for medic, etc.) But the moment I arrived, I reviewed the crew roster and by listening to them, each character came to life. Not just “to life” but those people shaped blobs became more and more real with faces. More surprisingly, each character had distinct physical traits. Like Star Trek in the 60’s, this game is ahead of its time: a number of body types are represented: from lean, tall, lanky, to short, stocky, heavy. Their accents are all fairly American and for a culturally diverse crew, I would have liked more accents, but that could be tricky, considering how much of what we learn is by listening. The Australian IT specialist, Natali Kuroshenko, was the one I enjoyed listening to the most and her sense of humor was great. Reading their logs, journals and instant messages really brings them to life. (Nat’s at one point comments on the AI going rogue and killing everyone, but then goes back to her normal report. I had to laugh!) There are some rooms that barely take a minute as you encounter the crew going about their regular lives, like seeing medical officer Sareh Hasmadi doing yoga in her room. Even the relationships felt real. Clive Siddiqi and E. V. St. James, station lead, are an item. Natali and her partner Roberta are married and in their room we can see “Bert” painting a mural while Nat lies in bed watching. Andrew, the botanist, communicates with his husband and child back on Earth. His story is the hardest to read when we realize that it doesn’t look like anyone survived and that means his husband and son are left without him. I applaud that the creators respectfully depicted three relationship groups: man/woman, man/man, woman/woman. Kudos to Fullbright for recognizing peoples rights and showing each pairing. That sort of respectful writing makes me want to watch for more games from them.
As the story goes on, we get segments of time. As the oxygen ran out, we see how little time the crew had. Bert and Nat work on an escape plan. Serah checks on the crews health. And the AI advises, in a sort-of-creepy HAL-9000 way. As the crisis was mounting, Serah puts 2 of the crew into cryogenic storage. This makes it a little easier to follow the remaining 4. Throughout, there are things that make us suspect that there’s more going on than we knew but stick with the story and all becomes clear.
The graphics were top notch and the amount of things you can interact with was impressive. I was stupidly excited when I found a Christmas Duck and turned it on to hear a popular Christmas melody. The music was good, but not quite my cuppa, but the sound quality is outstanding. This is a game designed with care. Impressively, the credits at the end were only half a dozen screens, not the typical rival to a Marvel theatrical release I see with most games! (I stayed for the whole run!)
I often say that dollar to hour ratio is an important factor, and this game, for free, is worth it, 100%. But at $20, I might have been irked by the length. I completed it in one sitting: 2.5 hours. Now, I will point out that it does have replay value: there is a commentary track that allows you to play through while finding out what the creators were thinking and planning in each step. I think that does warrant a bit more and for the respect paid to people of many walks of life, I think I would have been ok with the cost had I paid for it. My biggest complaint was not with the game itself but the Epic Games platform: I couldn’t take screenshots. Steam gives us the F12 button for some quick screen captures, but Epic does not have that, and I could find nothing online to show me how to do it, and this game has some amazing shots that I wanted to use as wallpapers. Yes, I do that sometimes… How many windows did I open just to look out at the earth or the moon spinning quietly in the silent void of space? A lot!
Anyway, this was an unexpected treat. Definitely worth the $0 I paid for it, or the free installation of Epic Games to get it. I think it probably warrants a slightly lower price tag, but the story was completely engrossing and contrary to my original thought, I absolutely saw the faces of the crew even through the colorful shapes. I can honestly recommend this, and I do intend to go back for a commentary play-through. In the meantime, check out the trailer and see what I mean. In a word (or two), pleasantly unexpected! ML