I have seen the future of computer hacking and it looks extremely hazardous to your health. Tracer, a puzzle strategy game from Future Endeavors, pits your eye-hand coordination and mental skills against an unrelenting killer virus that's been planted to methodically hunt you down.
Although the objective of Tracer is fairly simpleplace like colors of code pads down on the grid and use them to move around on each levelthe addition of a data-gobbling virus that is simultaneously hunting you down really delivers an adrenaline rush. The overall effect is one of challenging, but nerve-wracking, entertainment.
The basic story is this: in 2035, computer hacking has evolved into a physical crime and you are one of the best hackers in the business. While on a routine law-breaking mission, you find yourself in a bit of a bind, and the job turns out to be a set up. Now you're in a race to find out who wants you permanently deleted before the virus they've unleashed catches up with you.
With the help of a pleasant, smooth talking hologram that provides you with information about each area and clues about the virus' owner, you must complete 50 levels and figure out who's behind your predicament.
To vary the pace of gameplay, you can pick from one of three settings. Although the geek setting is the easiest, as you progress to the higher levels it still isn't a walk in the park. And if really want to test your skills (and your heart), try Tracer set on cyber-god mode. If you can survive at this hectic pace, you have my eternal respect.
You control your hacker (selected from one of four different characters) using the keyboard. Although getting up to speed is quick and easy, there is one technique that can cause a little frustration: holding an arrow key down for a too long may move you further than you needed to go and you'll rarely have extra time to backtrack. Move one pad at a time and avoid the potential risk.
Where so often having a variety of views in a game is an impressive but relatively useless feature, in Tracer the varying views are key. Being able to rotate the view 360 degrees and zoom in and out helps you plan your strategy. And planning is imperative in this game. As each level has a limited number of resources, failing to reach a reload site before exhausting your supply of code pads or any other pads makes you fodder for the virus. Those who think are rewarded; those who don'tZAP!
Although the soundtrack is upbeat and tolerable, the sound effects for the grid elements especially the Tracer virusare extremely annoying. Fortunately these sounds can be turned off, but without being able to hear the virus you'll constantly have to turn around to see how close it is. But in the end, it's a lot better than losing your mind.
If playing Tracer by yourself isn't entertaining enough, soon you'll be able to play it on a network with up to eight players. Although a level editor comes with the game, this feature will be more useful once 7th Level releases the network play software.
With its long gameplay and challenging levels, Tracer is definitely a game to pick up if you thrive on planning your moves well in advance and don't mind the pressure of something creeping along after you. Just remember, this is only a game people can't really be deleted by a computer virusyet.