In 1982, just as the insanely popular Commodore 64 was making headway into living rooms at $600 a pop, the movie Tron was unleashed upon a largely unsuspecting public. The three-dimensional animation was groundbreaking in scope and execution, the plot was abominably thin, and the copious volume of computer science jargon was hopelessly lost on the average viewer. In other words, a cult classic was born.
Tron 2.0 attempts to divine passage through the fourth dimension, revitalizing the stark vision that captivated theater audiences over two decades ago. If anything, Tron has purveyed a sleek and sexy rendition of a decidedly unsexy field of study (don’t hold your breath waiting for Bill Gates to be named People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive.”)
Set 20 years after the events of the movie, we are given the paper thin rendition of post-collegiate angst known as Jet Bradley. Over the phone, Jet adheres to the trite old adage of “life’s too short” as he breaks it to his long-suffering father (voiced by Bruce Boxleitner--that’s “Tron” to you) that all he wants to do is design videogames. Jet hears some kind of altercation on the other end of the line then goes to investigate his father’s lab: no sign of dad. Inexplicably, Jet is digitized into a binary set of 1’s and 0’s and assembled within the romanticized neon-centric innards of the computer world. Gradually revealed is the presence of an army of programs, led by Sith-tastic looking Thorne, bent on system-wide designs of assimilation and corruption.
First and foremost an FPS, Tron 2.0 further manages to incorporate lite RPG, stealth, and platforming elements to mix up the potentially breakneck pacing of strict shooter titles. A uniquely frustrating interface of memory blocks is utilized for the placement of acquired subroutine programs, integrating a visually sparse and initially baffling setup as an inventory screen. Innovative: yeah. Damnably annoying to learn and incorporate: hell yeah. There is no effective tutorial to show you the ropes of this user un-friendly system of combat, defense, and utility programs.
The RPG aspects are far between, as the collection of build points—distributed throughout a level for collection as well as awarded for completed tasks—allow you to add to your performance ratings: health, energy, weapon efficiency, and processor (the last one reducing the time required for subroutines to complete their tasks.)
A weak level of stealth can come into play if you crouch everywhere you go, but may be enhanced by using a “fuzzy signature” program which reduces footfall noise. This noise reduction is desirable not only for closing the distance with an enemy, but because footfalls sound like Jet is stuck on a digital trampoline, creating a sort of Chinese water torture for the listener’s ears. Also, the rod (a two-handed melee weapon) may be used in conjunction with the fuzzy signature to enact a stealth kill.
By far the most effective weapon is the classic Tron disc. It will happily boomerang and ricochet itself against countless enemies, while doubling as a shield for defensive use, all for the low, low cost of zero energy depletion. Guns such as the Suffusion and the LOL (no relation to the computer-speak acronym) deplete energy stores which must be refilled at energy spheres or pools. A corruption ball will give those pesky enemy programs a taste of their own medicine, effectively shutting down their subroutines and sucking up a chunk of their health at the same time.
To the rescue is the inclusion of the light-cycle race—which boils down to a glorified head-to-head round of the gaming classic Snake…only it’s inside cyberpunk motorcycles. A wall of light trails a healthy distance behind your bike as you maneuver to cut off your opponent and make them crash into your (or any) wall. The light cycles races are easily the simplest and most engaging portion of the entire game (although the subsequent exclusion of the original arcade’s tank battles is a crying shame.) System Linking and Xbox Live players can engage up to 16-players in scenarios ranging from the light cycle races to arena disc combat to capture the flag.
The PC e-bonics and anthropomorphization (if we may stretch the definition a bit) of strictly electronic procedures are creatively integrated into gameplay…incredibly limited gameplay, that is. Scour the spartan computer-scapes for downloadable permissions, proceed to the next chamber, scour for permissions again; download some e-mail; intersperse enemy groupings with unforgivable weapon accuracy; expect a lot of jumping between blocks. And there you have a recipe for repetitive gameplay structure: allow for over 30 levels of baking time. Do not expect many memorable scenarios to unfold.
If the gunplay, pacing, plot, or characterization amounted up to its stunning visual style, then Tron 2.0 would certainly deserve its killer app subtitle. Despite all of its shortcomings, however, it is still one of the most gorgeously envisaged and original landscapes available across the whole of gaming. No joke. It’s worth a look, but little more.
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A visually worthy (read: stunning!) successor to the 1982 classic film. An action title that incorporates FPS sensibilities with elements of RPG character growth and dull platforming. Ultimately as shallow as its gorgeous neon facade.