The Tracer Sanction

by Bill Heineman

Science Fiction
1984

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Overlooked younger sibling of Mindshadow, June 23, 2020

This is not a great game but it is one of the best of its genre, the split-screen graphics/text adventure of the 1980s. The story unfolds with actual beats and although it's possible to miss the choice you're asked to make, the story does branch in a meaningful way that's unusual for the period.

The graphics, while imperfect, are evocative and have a sense of style to them, and have at least surpassed the extraordinarily low bar set by some of Sierra's worst abuses. Similarly, although the game can be laughably small in scope if you're uncharitable (you hop from planet to planet, but each "planet" is really just a modest-sized map near a spaceport), there isn't a ton of padding masquerading as game content.

Mindshadow is routinely hailed by everyone up to and including Interplay itself as the better game. Interplay always passed this game up in favor of Mindshadow in its retrospectives. I am here to stridently disagree. On a five-star scale I only put one star between them, but it's the difference between "I never need to play Mindshadow again" and "a pleasant afternoon revisiting The Tracer Sanction sounds nice."

Unfortunately, from here Interplay (and others) started making bad and misguided choices, including the totally mistaken idea that what 8-bit text/graphic adventures needed most was a GUI. That was the last thing they needed, and subsequent games like Borrowed Time and Tass Times In Tonetown would have benefited if they had simply stuck with the formula and focused on using more of that precious real estate for art.