Trackless by 12 East Games is a pilgrimage, a journey through many themes and ideas. It’s an odd jewel with a mystical vibe. Everything is so beautiful and odd and ugly. I liked it. Maybe I even loved it.
You and a whole fauna of other pilgrims are on a journey towards The Object, an artefact of unknown origin. A train through an empty wasteland takes you to your starting point. Onboard, you play the game you’re in without knowing it. Cleverly and conveniently enough, they control the same.
The end station approaches. You get off. You follow directions. Your cat is there too, but the two of you have to part now. Someone will replace them, but you don’t know who yet. As the player, you are the centre of attention. Even objects and larger buildings are facing you. They can’t seem to go on without you.
The game plays like a 2D P&C, but in a 3D world, so you can stick to the given path, but also wander off to explore a side-quest or two, or maybe find one of the alternative endings. Exploration is a consistent theme and, as such, rewarded, which, together with the multiple endings, add to the replayability factor — as does the main mechanic. In short, you talk to people, solve puzzles, explore, and write. The art style is crude, but effective.
For more precise interactions, verb input is required. Trackless improves the historically often tedious word search by allowing for a larger range of words for each interaction and rewarding the player for originality or precision, so a player, who wants to move on, can do so with the most plain of word, while others can take their time to get more bonus points. These points are by no means important for progress (with one exception), but allow you to spice things up a little. Some of the upgrades you can get will be more helpful than others. Not much is told about them, and you might even miss them being upgrades (as did I during my first playthrough), so you will have to explore and experiment.
The phone you carry has a few important features that you better keep an eye on and also functions as a radar, which is a nice, immersive way of showing you which objects are important and which are not. The music goes very well with the over-all mystical vibe.
At first glance, everything is just for show. It’s like a staged play, but, after the audience has left for the night, we don’t know exactly what happens on stage when the lights are off and the ghosts of silent applauds are free to roam. The 3D world around you lives a life of its own. You are just a visitor, a tourist in cheap thrills. You “exit through the gift shop” before going back home. The world you left goes back to normal and your memory of it fades as you return to your own.
If you care to dig deeper, though, you could take a peek behind the curtain, go off-script and find your own truth. It doesn’t have to be fake, the thrills not cheep, you could be a part of this world.
My only real gripe is that the voice acting is, albeit charming, somewhat amateurish. This could be said to add to the atmosphere of things being staged — if intentional — but saying that could also be me looking too far into things.
A smaller, almost insignificant, gripe is how we are on one occasion supposed to be giving a noun, despite still being prompted for a verb, which briefly threw me off as I was trying to “verbify”, which, weirdly enough, actually worked — initially (instead of the noun I knew the answer to be, I input “answer” and was taken to the next question).
Finding an old tractor in a far off barn and not being able to take it for a spin was a bit of a missed opportunity. There are other ways of travelling faster, mind you, but driving that tractor would have gone well with the otherwise consistent theme of switching vehicles (and would have provided a nice bonus reward for getting to that barn — especially considering how long it took me at my then still unaugmented speed).
With so many mixed ideas, I find it fitting that the devs’ next project was a set of physical tarot cards and I can easily imagine those cards being laid out by one very particular character in Trackless, seeing how they decided the individual fates of so many people.
I almost didn’t write this review at all. One could say I was… trackless for a while. Finally I started reviewing my efforts to review the game, and that’s how I found my own way into it. Was I afraid to not do the game justice? Perhaps. It was a journey both to play and to review (“life imitates art” 😎 ).