Last week we talked about three imminent titles from the ID@Xbox stable, starting with a release date announcement for the long-awaited console port of Cities Skylines, as well as a detailed hands-on with both rhythm shooter Aaero and creepy murder mystery The Sexy Brutale.
This week we're looking at games a little further ahead in the ID@Xbox schedule and it's an eclectic bunch indeed. Whether you're interested in unravelling a sci-fi mystery using rewindable holograms, learning about the power of friendship in a cel-shaded rogue-lite or booping snoots on a super saccharine farmstead, you'll find something to pique your interest. First, we'll tell you a little more about Tacoma.
Not quite what I expected from futuristic signposting.
We've seen a large number of sci-fi mysteries on ID@Xbox, let alone elsewhere, so the premise of Tacoma – investigate a space station, find out what happened to the crew, have significant misgivings about the motives of the AI – might not raise any eyebrows. Within just a few minutes of playing, however, I found myself quite intrigued by both the narrative and the way in which our intrepid explorer accesses it.
A softly-spoken computer voice gave me a brief and vague introduction to my surroundings and my purpose as I manoeuvred slowly through a zero-gravity corridor. Floating items could be picked up and inspected, although old packets of food and a basketball gave me few clues as to the situation. Cardboard signs taped onto walls bore cheery slogans such as "THIS WAY TO THE TACOMA DOME", a strange juxtaposition of the friendly and sinister that reminded me of stepping into an abandoned Fallout vault. Gravity returned in the personnel area, where I plugged a tablet device into a nearby dock. It revealed that I was part of a team investigating the defunct station in order to establish what had happened. A text message on the device told me that I had some free time to explore while data was being downloaded, so I wandered off into a dining area bearing a strange message: "Happy Obsolescence Day, Tacoma Crew!"
I was introduced to what I assume is the main storytelling mechanic of the game. Using a device carried by the protagonist I was able to start a holographic recording of the crew. Each crew member is picked out in a different colour but with no facial features or further detail. Two women had a conversation about their duties on board as well as their relationship. Two men entered the scene prepared to start celebrations for this strange party, but then an alarm sounded. From here, the playback became choppy and indistinct, but we did find out that something had struck the facility and caused grave damage, and a fifth crew member, seemingly senior, enters the fray as well. Before things could be explained further, the recording finished.
In a similar way to Life Is Strange, I was then able to rewind the action and listen again to the proceedings. I could pause and play as I changed my physical location, allowing me to hear the discussion between the two men in the kitchen before they entered the dining room. This revealed a few more clues, but mostly deepened the mystery further. A holographic panel appeared next to a character during the moment of crisis; pausing the playback, I found that in this specific moment I could access that character's personal data and correspondence from the panel, giving me yet more scraps of character and plot.
Is the layout of the billiard balls important, or am I getting far too paranoid?
Finally I tracked down the senior crew member outside her office, although I missed the end of her conversations with the ship AI because the hologram passes through a locked door. During the playback I was able to watch her type in the access code on the keypad. It was a simple puzzle but showed off the rewind functionality nicely; I imagine later puzzles will involve more intricate use of playback to continue on, as well as reveal more of the characters' histories.
The demo ended shortly after completing this puzzle, and I was left frustrated that I couldn't immediately continue to find out what was going on; surely the sign of a good mystery in the making. Unfortunately we still don't have a release window for Tacoma, but the official site still points at a 2017 release.
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