Tracers logo

Price: £24.99

I cannot say I was overly keen when I first saw the packaging for Tracers: neither the decidedly dull screenshots on the back nor the lengthy waffling scenario booklet inside - a total rip-off of the plot of that ace sci-fi flick of a few years back, 'Tron', incidentally - held out much hope of fun.

I was wrong. True, Tracers makes absolutely no use whatsoever of the Amiga's graphic capabilities, but behind this pathetically un-state-of-the-art exterior lies a fiendishly addictive game.

Though the attached booklet runs to a dozen pages, the actual gameplay is simple to grasp. Think of that old arcade game Snake (included on Firebird's budget Arcade Classics package). Or, better still, think of the amazing high-speed chase scene inside the computer circuitry landscape of the aforementioned 'Tron'.

You start each level as a flashing square. There will be at least one other flashing square on the playing area, which is simply a huge grid of squares.

As soon as play begins all the players, whether under human or computer control, start moving, fairly nippily I might add, leaving a trail behind them. Actually the trail left is really more of a wall: neither the player himself, nor any of the other 'tracers' can cross this trail - contact with it leads to destruction. There is no provision for lengthy planning either - your 'tracer' has not got any brakes, so all you can do is control the direction in which it moves.

The idea is to box all the other opponents in, forcing them eventually to crash into a trail, while preventing the same thing happening to yourself. And even when you have caused your last opponent to self-destruct, you must not take your mind off what you are doing - the level does not end until all the opposing tracers 'trails' have disappeared, which they do square by square backwards from where they met their sticky end.

Apart from your own and your opponents' trails, there are plenty of other things which kill you if you hit 'em: all the boundry walls (skilful turning when you reach the edge of the playing area is essential), plus various solid bricks which lie dotted about the playing area. But there are also fuel nodes (only take the ones in your own colour, your opponents' ones are lethal to you), extra life tokens and smart bomb squares which kill all the other tracers on the level.

There is also one extremely useful feature which allows you to escape from seemingly desperate situations: each tracer has a square pulsing up and down its trail at high speed. Occasionally this pulse square stops for a few moments on a particular trail square, and this forms a temporary "doorway" through the trail.

You get points for travelling more than twenty squares, for picking up fuel nodes and extra life tokens, for completing each level and for crossing your own trail via one of the temporary doorways. There are five different play modes, for one or two players, allowing you to play by yourself, with or against a mate and/or computer-controlled tracers.

Your tracer moves in whichever direction you last tweaked your joystick, and there is an acceleration button (useful when you are trying to reach a border before an opponent in order to box him in).

I have got a couple of quibbles with Tracers. The graphics are not that special, and, more seriously, some of the colours are very close which occasionally causes you to hit a deadly obstacle rather than a fuel node. And, frankly, twenty-five quid for a game this simple does seem a bit steep.

But, when all is said and done, the joy obtained boxing Mike P in five times a row was better than anything I have experienced on the Amiga for yonks.

Tracers logo

Microillusions, £19.95 disk

In the 21st century every major city in the world is linked to one central computer-controlled system. Not surprisingly, police are already on trail of hackers.

The Tracers' battle against the hackers is depicted on a grid of squares, each of which presents a node. They move across the grid leaving a trail of corrupted nodes which cannot be passed through until that hacker is taken off-line.

Also on the grid, of course, is the Tracer, who similarly lays an impassable wall of nodes around the hackers, hoping to force them into a trap.

The hackers aren't stupid, though, and are just as keen to see you leave the system, so they employ the same entrapment strategies to get rid of you.

Because every user's mind is linked to the system, being thrown out can cause physical pain and terrible psychic damage - an experience know as a 'burn'. Quite obviously, a person can only stand so many burns before signing for a one way ticket to Dr Julius' Laughing Academy, but a burn's effects can be overcome to a certain degree by picking up Hackerdust - a neurotic sustance used by the hackers to allow easier entry into computer systems.

Your mission as a rookie Tracer starts with the selection of a piece of music designed to increase adrenalin flow in the 'pilot' and then choosing a tactic. The hackers in the net monitor these decisions all the time.

Once all the hackers in a sector have been destroyed, you move on to the next, tougher 'precinct'.

Maff Evans Tron-style games aren't the most usual thing to be seen on computers, so it's something of a coincidence that several should come in for review in the same Issue. Tracers follows the format set in games like Blind Alley on the Spectrum all those years ago. The layout is more grid-like and precise than the randomness of Atron 5000, which means that the game must be played in a different way - each has its own strengths. The graphics aren't exactly state-of-the-art, but then a game like this doesn't call for incredible graphics. The sound, on the other hand, could have been improved, as all it consists of is a few pings, crunches and annoying drum and didgeridoo bass-lines - although on winning a level you're treated to a nice mandolin riff which is reminiscent of Clannad's Legend. Out of the two 'light-bike' games this month, I prefer Atron 5000, but you really should take a good look at both before buying either.
Paul Glancey I may be getting old, but I'm afraid Tracers' uncomplicated linedrawing action is just too old-fashioned for me. After that statement you're probably wondering why I liked this month's other Tron game, Atron 5000, so much. With two players, the action in Atron gets really aggressive as items are picked up and activated with a malicious cackle as you make your opponent bring about his own demise. With Tracers the feeling of kill-or-be-killed isn't really brought across as well, because winning is simple a matter of fencing your opponent in. The turbo-charger doesn't really add any thrills because the fuel supply is so limited, and the different games don't seem to boost enjoyment either. In case you haven't guessed it yet, I would much rather spend £14.95 on Atron 5000 than £19.95 on Tracers.