Friday 17 January 2020

Piecing together the path of past lives

Tacoma (XO/PC) ★★★★ Age: 12+

Tacoma for Xbox One and PC
Tacoma for Xbox One and PC
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

A game that's all story and no action - that's a movie, right? But Tacoma shucks off the narrative constraints of a linear film script to provide an experience only the gaming medium can deliver.

Like the developers' previous effort, Gone Home, Tacoma explores the aftermath of a mysterious incident, this time aboard a space station orbiting Earth in 2088. As clichéd as the set-up is, just don't expect the blood-curdling chills of Alien. Think more of the muted menace of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey or the inscrutable threat aboard Tarkovsky's Solaris.

Your job is to piece together the lives of six crew and their last moments aboard the station by picking through the bric-a-brac left behind. You're assisted by AI recordings that track the crew's movements and conversations in the final hours. These tapes - not quite CCTV, more like abstract VR reconstructions - and the personal belongings reveal the six's intimate details and inner lives. Everything has a story to tell. A failing marriage, fears for a child, financial worries - all is laid bare if you to take the time to sift through the branching layers of archive.

Finely acted and intricately woven, Tacoma isn't in the same league as Kubrick or Tarkovsky but you can't fault it for trying.

The Darkside Detective

(PC/Mac) ★★★★ Age: 12+

The age of the point'n'click adventure may seem a distant memory but no one told Galway-based collective Spooky Doorway. They channel their love of classics such as Secret of Monkey Island into a pun-filled, droll series of six short yarns that might be loosely classed as paranormal mysteries.

Never mind the plotting, enjoy instead the sparky banter between the titular wisecracking 'tec and his beat-cop partner/straight man. Revel also in the blocky beauty of the pixelated artwork and the Twin Peaks vibe of the soundtrack. You'll come for the game - a relatively untaxing series of genre-staple puzzles - and stay for the pop-culture atmosphere and zippy one-liners.

Shadow Tactics

(PS4/XO) ★★★ Age: 16+

A rare breed of squad-based stealth set in feudal Japan, Shadow Tactics ensures you're always outnumbered, always outgunned (and, er, out-sworded). So your team of five must work together to snipe, distract, assassinate and sneak through compounds teeming with enemies.

It lurches between deeply satisfying (when you employ more than brute force to finesse a task) to frustrating (when they don't because of punishing difficulty). Factor in the awkward controls on console and Shadow Tactics comes off as an intriguing but flawed gem.

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