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Game Reviewed: Tacoma
Platform: Xbox One, PC
ESRB Rating: T
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In Tacoma, you play as an agent sent to recover an AI unit from an abandoned space station. While there, you recover recordings of its crew and see the events that led to the station’s abandonment unfold before you; the story of a malfunction in the station’s systems, of a corporation that seems unable to help, and a diverse, six-person crew of people who are faced with a variety of dilemmas in overcoming these challenges.
This premise does little to adequately communicate what Tacoma is really about, but to say any more would be to effectively spoil the story and what it’s about. I’ll go over some slight spoilers in the “Positive Elements” section though, because Tacoma is a very hopeful story with a whole lot of positive elements.
The gameplay is simple; the player explores the station according to directives from the company for which they’re recovering the AI unit. Some areas will have traces of data from earlier events, and the player can use a futuristic augmented reality device to view these events like an AR movie, rewinding and repositioning to catch all the important events and dialogue.
What Parents Need to Know
This is one of those few games that doesn’t center around violence at all, and the player never commits any violent acts themselves. The only instance of violence involves an explosion, which roughly throws two crewmembers across the room, but since the AR system is representing these past events with polygonal representations of the crew members (rather than detailed human models), the violence is rather abstract and not at all graphic.
The dialogue includes language such as “f--k, “s--t,” and other, lesser profanities on occasion. The more intense language was rare enough for the game to manage a T rating.
Two of the crewmembers are married, and there’s a sign outside their room with the words, “If the bed’s a-rockin’, don’t come knockin’.” One recorded event ends with one half of this married couple jumping on the other one in a playful, implied sexual manner. At one point a classical-style painting is visible that includes breast nudity.
None to speak of.
Among the items scattered around the ship, the player can find cigarettes and alcohol.
I don’t want to spoil too much, but Tacoma is packed with positive behavior and messages. It’s a story about doing what’s right even if it’s against orders, or even against your very nature. It’s about self-sacrifice, and coming to terms with risk if it means a better chance for others. It’s about relationships, and how we gain meaning from our connection to other people. It’s about empathy, and the importance of understanding others and acting in their interests. It’s a story about real, flawed, good-intentioned people working to overcome a threat to themselves and each other, and all the things they have to wrestle with to do it. You could have quite a discussion with your teenager about this game and what it means.
A Child’s Perspective: I unfortunately do not have easy access to a child for this section, but I can say that this kind of game often doesn’t hold the attention of children as well as something more colorful, silly, and/or action-packed. But if your kid is the kind who likes to read, and likes movies for their stories, there’s definitely a chance they’ll enjoy a game like this that essentially puts them into the story.
Fullbright’s previous game, Gone Home, made quite a splash when it released, and is still hailed as one of the better examples of non-combat, atmospheric storytelling games. And for good reason. But I’d argue that Tacoma has surpassed it.
The story it tells is tense and enthralling, with characters that feel real and voice performances that really sell the emotions and dilemmas they’re facing. The interaction is simple, but never fails to make the player feel involved in what’s going on. The framing device is strong, and maintains tension as the player wonders what happened to these six people they’re coming to know and appreciate.
But ultimately, while the story of Tacoma is full of tension, fear, and sacrifice, it’s ultimately a very hopeful tale that showcases the power of empathy, autonomy, and hope. And this all comes through loud and clear through the game’s excellent framing device and writing. To top it all off, Tacoma only takes a few hours to play through, so a good sitting or two could get you and your kid through it and discussing the many themes and lessons the game has to offer!
The game’s nonviolent nature makes it an excellent choice for your kids compared to many games on the market, but the mature themes it deals with combines with some language and a few mild sexual references means the game is probably better-suited for teens. If you like discussing good stories with your kids, Tacoma is one of the better games out there to do it with.