Saturday, May 29, 2021

Game 72: Tracker

The Macintosh title looks the best out of the title screens
Publisher:Rainbird Software
Developer:Union Software
Genre:Flight Simulation/Strategy
Time:2 hours

I have never spent more time trying, unsuccessfully, getting a game to work like this in a long time. First, I naturally tried the Amiga version. I needed to do something funny with the emulator and I wasn't going to do that. Then I tried the Macintosh version, because that was the next best thing. Across a multitude of systems, it still wouldn't work. Then I couldn't find the Atari ST version. That left the DOS and C64 versions, which I wasn't looking forward to. This is CGA dos if you don't remember and my C64 emulator is just hard to use. I find Macintosh easier than the C64, what is this world coming to? Then the C64 version doesn't work either, so I decide to screw it and go with DOS. Its not a mystery as to why this game isn't popular today, its near impossible to get running.

Tracker is an interesting title. Set in a cyberpunk future as some kind of deathsport. They don't explain why its a deathsport, since the game doesn't involve your physical presence, they're just being evil. Its hard to say what the closest sport is, but its basketball, in the sense that you grab a "ball" (bomb) to put in a "hoop" (target). Its a big arena you fly around in several ships, gradually destroying hoops. You control several ships, and each operates independently until you control them specifically, for combat. The game comes with a big novella, but the manual itself does a pretty good job of putting the story out there.

Its not really a mystery why it isn't popular once I start playing, as the game has a very tedious start-up process. Partially my fault, since I wasn't certain what kind of control scheme I wanted, but move of the keys are useless. What's important are the speed keys and the weapon change. But you have to change them whenever you start, or just adjust to the original controls. Turning and shooting are handled by the mouse. Its slow, but its handled. Nonetheless, my first attempt at playing this goes poorly. Each ship can be attacked, but when you're in the combat mode, which I did when it said I was being attacked, the game doesn't tell you when anything is happening to another ship. That could just be full-screen combat mode, since I eventually found that the "windowed" mode provided me with a map, which is incredibly vital to doing anything in this game.
When I start treating it like a racing game with incidental shooting, it becomes better. Like Wipeout, but bad. Not good, just better. The problem with the controls, is that in addition to the aforementioned issues, is that you can't turn around anywhere but in designated places. Its more like trains that can crash into each other that can also shoot. This has disastrous consequences for you, but the enemy gets away scot-free. I'm not even sure I can damage these guys. It doesn't seem like I'm doing anything. The targets, on the other hand, I'm actually managing to hit. Its absolutely bizarre.
This game is really badly designed. The system of having multiple ships moving around at different times is completely alien to how I usually play such games. The game doesn't seem to be encouraging it either. You two different kinds of bombs, one you get easily and can use against a relatively easy target outside the starting area. This gives you the second kind, which you use against a central computer. The problem is all the weapons don't seem to want to hit where you aim. The bombs I could get bounced and the regular shot didn't hit a moving target once. You have infinite ammo for the regular gun, but it recharges, slowly. I should have taken out something at some point.
I didn't make it far. I was getting persistent crashes that sent me to DOS, and if I returned to the game, it just crashed DOSbox. This game is basically unplayable no matter how you cut it.
With that said, let's talk about the manual. By far the most interesting piece of this game. There's a novella, which I didn't read, because if I was going to do that, I'd spend my time reading actual novels or short stories, not ones produced for a video game. But the manual is something special. This is some on-point cyberpunk humor. The TV station telling you not to advertise for local funeral homes, because they don't want to get cheated out of meagre revenue. Your epitaph will be chosen by a weekly caption contest. Except what's interesting is that this changes depending on what version you're playing. Macintosh, interesting cyberpunk. C64, computer-turned-bad.

Nearly unusable cannons and bombs. 0/10

You have stationary and mobile targets, which have different types, but they didn't really matter. The game hypes up its own AI, but it didn't seem all that intelligent.  1/10


The overarching map only looks cool when you zoom out, inside its just endless corridors and pylons. 1/10

Player Agency:
A floaty hovercraft you can't aim at all. I guess its easily understandable for a modern user, but the same is true of a bulldozer, and neither are ideal driving experiences. 1/10


None of the interesting cyberpunk atmosphere enters into the game. 0/10

Generic early 3D, serviceable, but not impressive. 1/10

Putting your story in a novella is guaranteed to make me not care. 0/10

Generic PC Speaker. 1/10

That's 5. That makes it the 11th game in a row to get under 20, with only Lethal Tender breaking up an even longer string of bad games. I recommend reading the manual and maybe the novella over playing this. Its the only enjoyment anyone is getting out of this. Otherwise, Rollerball or something.

Opinions on the game were sharply divided. Everyone felt the game was hard, but few felt that difficulty was worth it. The reviews on the Amiga and ST versions were the most favorable, with most Commodore 64 and DOS reviews ripping it to shreds. Zapp is my favorite, highlighting the same points as I, but less harsh and points out this cost 15£. That's back when that meant something.

I think I'm going to play something a bit out of the way next. I need a break from early '80s games, its starting to wear on me quite a bit.

No comments:

Post a Comment