BackTrack Review

Thanks to a claustrophobic clipping plane and frequent dead zones, BackTrack still feels like unfinished shareware.

by

BackTrack is another of the GBA's fledgling first-person shooters. As the story goes, Domingoaniax, an evil alien, has whipped up a rather large invasion force on the dark side of the moon. You assume the role of special agent Jim Track, and your job is to rescue the 110 kidnapped humans and blast Domingo's droid army to bits. Considering the genre, the plot is sufficient, even if gameplay is ultimately lacking.

On the plus side, BackTrack has a fantastic multiplayer mode and a nice array of weapons. There are six deathmatch arenas, each playable as a standard 20-point deathmatch or as a 4-point round robin. Both modes support up to four human players via a link cable. In terms of ammo, you start with a trusty pistol and a pocketknife, but later upgrades include a chaingun, a laser rifle, a plasma sword, an aerosol flamethrower, and a slingshot. Oddly enough, the two strongest weapons are also the most ugly: a bubble gun that shoots bubble gum and a vacuum cleaner that's powered by magic powder. Gun aesthetics aside, multiplayer matches in BackTrack are tense, fast-paced, and full of violent catharsis.

Tragically, however, BackTrack's single-player game isn't nearly as rewarding as its multiplayer offerings. Through 12 huge levels--stacked one on top of the other--you need to gather keycards and rescue humans. There are plenty of aliens to blast as well, but unlike in Doom, Dark Arena, or any of the game's peers, there isn't a method to the madness. Secret floor switches and elevator triggers are planted haphazardly, which renders the map useless. The game's nondescript graphics don't help matters either; repetitious wall and floor textures may be fine for a deathmatch, but their ugliness, combined with a lack of interesting landmarks, makes the single-player campaign dull, dull, and dull.

Due to its slow pacing, the single-player mode also provides additional time to unmask more of the game's graphical and design shortcomings. Visually, BackTrack is similar to id Software's Wolfenstein 3D. However, unlike in Wolfenstein 3D, the map designs and texture usage in BackTrack fail to either guide you between objectives or portray an adequate setting. The game feels like an overblown warehouse killing spree, and pillars, walls, and doors are scattered about with no rhyme or reason. In many instances, pillars and corners also have a noticeable dead zone around them, which tends to make maneuvering difficult. Worst of all, though, the game's field of view is limited to barely a few feet in front of you--objects in the distance simply fade to black past a certain point.

Surprisingly, the fact that enemy sprites are drawn comically and are poorly animated isn't a drawback. The tall androids, floating killers, and yellow-suited humans exude an aura of '50s camp, which meshes well with the murky Flash Gordon-style scenery. The inclusion of digitized speech segments at various points is also a positive inclusion, even if the music is dreary, PBS-quality science fiction.

In all fairness, though, kitschy monsters and digitized speech can't save a game that is ultimately boring. Multiplayer is a fair sight better than single-player, but it is doubtful that people will prefer BackTrack's take on deathmatch over Activision's Doom or even newer games such as Ecks vs. Sever. Thanks to a claustrophobic clipping plane and frequent dead zones, BackTrack still feels like unfinished shareware.

The Good
N/A
The Bad
3.9
Bad
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