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A meditative experience that encourages players to question the world around them through minimalist design and gameplay.

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Playing Trackless felt like living in a steampunk comic book and sitting in middle-school English class playing word games. I’m no stranger to weird experiences and even prefer games with creepy atmospheres – with a little mystery served on the side. That said, Trackless combined my interest for the unusual with minimalist gameplay and exploration, which led to an interesting narrative I’m not quite sure I fully understood when all was said and done.

I’m not gonna lie; visually, Trackless isn’t much to look at. Inspired by other games like King’s Quest, there was a heavy elements of cyber punk attitude and paper cut outs to help create this minimalist world. Set against the backdrop of a not-so-distant future of mankind, you take on the role of a Seeker who goes through the trials. Going through the trials is necessary to earn the privilege of seeing the Object, a mysterious item that no one knows where it came from or its true purpose.

During this pilgrimage, you’ll have the chance to meet new characters and unravel the mystery of the Object. There will be people who try to stop you along your journey and others who will try to help. Along the way there are characters who can be close friends or enemies, and there are even those who would seek to hide the real truth of the Object from you. Seeing through these lies and reading between the lines is completely up to you – unless you decide to turn a blind eye to the strange happenings around you.

What sets this apart is the text-based gameplay when you have to enter in an action to want to interact with the world and to solve puzzles. It’s not unlike Scribblenauts, where you’ll have to use different verbs and adjectives that gives you points which are used as in-game currency to purchase items or services.

Crushingly, I came to learn my vocabulary for everyday actions were lacking, repeatedly typing the word “push” to indicate movement instead of using alternative words like move, nudge, launch, depress, shift, etc. When I entered an area that required a bridge to be lifted by rising water, it took me a while to realize the word “flood” was the key word I needed. Suffice to say, I didn’t quite feel like the literary genius I do most days.

Not to mention the countless times I racked my brain wandering from one zone to the next completing tasks, I started to wonder if there was even a point to the things I was doing. At one point, I even just quit playing for a whole day because I couldn’t solve one puzzle, coming back again a few hours later to see if the solution had dawned on me. Walking around in constant circles staring at my digital phone to see if I was any closer to the next task that needed to be done. The exercise in patience grated on my nerves, but being forced to slow down did let me appreciate the simplistic atmosphere that felt eerie and often lonely at times.

As I continued my journey more things and a sense of this alternate future of mankind were slowly revealed through each new zone. It made me feel isolated since besides text that appears on my phone and quiet ambient music, my pilgrimage to see the Object is almost completely silent. Instead of presenting the story to me on a silver platter it’s handed over in snippets and whispers to let me draw my own conclusions.

In one zone, I came across a VR room and had the option to interact with NPCs to find out what they were doing. I found it disturbing when a notification popped up that the people in VR were actually ‘experiencing’ decades of life in the space of a few hours and they would “eventually” wake up and return to normal life. The idea of humanity eventually developing the ability to live entire lives in the space of hours is disturbing and I quickly hurried out of the VR room to move on to the next room.

Trackless isn’t what I would call one of the most notable titles out there, but it does make you think. I chose to push right through every environment I came across, only to realize later that I’d passed through probably a good 2/3rds of the entire game. There were secrets scattered about I had ignored and puzzles I hadn’t chosen to take time to solve. Looking back, I actually have to say I ended up having a lot of respect for this game. The quietness of the environments and hearing the soft lapping of water washing up against the shore in certain zones gave the feeling I should be looking below the surface. I shouldn’t take everything I read and told at face value, but instead question the world around me. When no answers present themselves, I’m encouraged to seek them out on my own.

About the Author: Nia Bothwell