I picked this up and zipped through it tonight. It’s by the same people who did Gone Home. It’s similar in gameplay, only it’s set in spaaaaaaace.

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So: It’s 2088.  You’re Ami Ferrier, who’s been sent to grab the AI data from the unoccupied Tacoma space station.  It’s soon clear that something bad happened here, and you can snoop around to see what it was.

You can look at physical clues, but you also look at virtual clues: the AI kept recordings of significant crew interactions, in the form of augmented reality recordings. These are color-coded ghosts (with full audio). The clever bit is that you can’t just stand there gawking at them– the characters move around, and you have to decide which ones to follow. You can then rewind and follow someone else.

All this makes two big improvements over Gone Home:

  • The futuristic setting, which allows the art and story people a good deal more creativity.
  • The AR recordings, which just feel more involving and interactive than a straight audio.

But the overall method and even the story structure are similar.  You can root around offices and personal quarters, look in drawers and trash bins, solve a few simple puzzles to gain access to additional areas.  You don’t have to do any of this, but you’d might as well, because that’s the game… you don’t get to shoot anyone at all. You’ll very soon get to know each of the six residents of the station.

The story has been described as cyberpunkish, or Late Capitalism in Spaaace.  Let’s just say that you won’t be surprised to find corporate shenanigans going on, and some inscrutable and possibly dangerous AIs.

Gone Home had the advantage of being a low-key domestic story; it was unusual because we almost never see something like that made into a game. But I think Tacoma is a step forward in storytelling; without losing the interest in everyday personal interactions, it’s more streamlined and dramatic.  Rather than slowly leafing through a couple decades of family life, it focuses on a very stressful period of days, with a few key flashbacks. (I think there are fewer items to look at, but that’s because they rely on the AR for so much of the storytelling.  The games each take about 2 hours to play.)

The ending is also a lot more satisfying.  (Mouse over to read if you aren’t worried about spoilers.)  One, Ami actually does something, unlike the entirely passive PC in Gone Home. And two, the story manages to not replay every AI story ever told, which is refreshing.

One minor complaint: the low-detail ghosts. When they’ve obviously gone to the trouble of motion-capturing the performances and building 3-D models, I don’t get why they didn’t just show the characters’ faces.  It’s not like they were trying to hide them– there are pictures of each one.

Anyway, it’s a really interesting exercise in storytelling.  It could have been told as a movie or a comic, but the interactivity adds something, though that something is hard to explain. Perhaps it’s that it requires active curiosity, rather than passive acceptance. A lot of far fancier games could learn the lesson that it’s kind of annoying to grab the camera away from the player and just show them cutscenes.

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