Disney’s Tron would give us an inspired look into what it would be like inside a computer by turning Beau Bridges into data, giving audiences an early view of a world where programs were much like living people, a tyrannical AI sought to control information, and where Users were considered mythical beings by their programmed creations. While it wasn’t a commercial success at the time of its release and considered to be too far ahead of its time, more than twenty years later it has managed to acquire a legendary status of its own that many have pointed to as a precursor of today’s cinematic take on cyberspace and its related themes. So it was with some excitement that fans had responded with when Buena Vista announced the game, Tron 2.0. But while the game is as visually rich as the film it was inspired by, the gameplay and its story are something else.
Tron 2.0 had its functions tested on a PC. It is also available on the Mac and was ported to the Xbox.
The story takes place nearly more than twenty years after the events of the film. Alan Bradley, the original programmer responsible for the Tron program that had helped to bring down the notorious Master Control Program, now works for ENCOM. Kevin Flynn, the User that had helped Tron free ENCOM’s network after being inadvertently digitized by the MCP to stop him, had become a powerful executive within the ranks of ENCOM, only to eventually leave. Alan’s son, Jet, also works for ENCOM as a game programmer much to the chagrin of his father who wants him to take a more ‘responsible’ position in the company.
However, the company’s fortunes are on the decline. The digitizing technology that had turned Flynn into binary bits, had ceased to work correctly after the MCP’s defeat. The colossal calculations needed to correct the process and prevent corruption were lost after Tron and Flynn’s success and in the following years, Alan and his wife had been trying to recreate the algorithms needed to make it work safely again. Alan’s wife, Laura, had died in the lab due to a freak accident concerning the digitizing laser, and he has continued the work ever since.
But fCon, an up and coming technology powerhouse, has made a bid for the struggling ENCOM. Jet, while arguing with his father, overhears a struggle take place in the lab where he is working. Racing there, he doesn’t find his father…but he finds that something has happened to the system. A safety protocol is suddenly activated, digitizing him, and pulling him into the world of Tron where he comes face to face with a corrupting virus and the truth behind fCon’s eager takeover of ENCOM.
fCon had been working on their own digitizing technology. Unfortunately for them, they never had the correction algorithms that Alan’s wife had managed to reconstruct before her death. Now a corruption is spreading throughout the system as a viral message of destruction tears into ENCOM’s servers. And Jet is right at the heart of it.
As nice as the story sounds, it doesn’t last very long until you get the feeling that it takes a backseat to some very Disneyesque twists. While the original Tron had a depth of social and philosophical commentary woven into its digital mythology, there’s hardly any of that here other than a few interesting takes on what is now current, much like what happened with MGM’s attempted restoking of their Wargames property with their RTS offerings. Fortunately, the gameplay makes up for this in a huge way.
Tron 2.0 is an FPS with some RPG flavoring, allowing you to build up Jet’s abilities in addition to improving his skills, weapons, and protection that he will be using to defend the computer systems of the world from fCon’s accidental corruption. Jet’s core abilities include his health, the energy that he can use with certain weapons, his ability to quickly download items that he finds such as permissions (keys), the speed at which he can ‘port’ unknown programs and disinfect viral subroutines, and the efficiency of his energy usage. Jet can earn “build” points by performing well in certain tasks related to the quest as well as finding build icons that are hidden in each level. Every time he goes up a version level (going from 1.0.0 to 2.0.0, for example), he’ll be able to upgrade these abilities which will go a long way to surviving the more brutal challenges waiting for him later especially when he starts fighting viral programs that can corrupt whatever items or special equipment he has ‘loaded’ into his memory.
Items, called subroutines, can also be collected, ranging from weapons to armor to special programs that can help protect him from viral infection. These are loaded into ‘memory blocks’ (think inventory slots) that change from level to level to reflect the memory requirements needed for those areas, mixing up the challenge of deciding the best mix of subroutines you will need, although you can always play around with what works best at any time. These subroutines can start out as large programs, taking up three blocks of whatever memory Jet has to work with, but they can be optimized to Beta which takes up only two, and then to Gold which takes up only one, saving space and improving their benefits. These can also be corrupted in combat by viral programs that Jet will run into, forcing him to take the time to disinfect them in order to restore them to usefulness. This will happen often, especially early in the game.
You’ll even participate in light cycle duels with a new light cycle by futurist designer, Syd Mead. But the arenas aren’t all open spaces. Now they’re filled with a variety of obstacles, speed bonuses, and power-up icons that weren’t in the original film. They add quite a bit of challenge, but the translation to 3D is not without issues. For example, there are a few camera modes that the player can shift to and they can slow down and speed up when needed. But the camera angles aren’t exactly as helpful as a general top-down view on the game map would have been as it isn’t unusual for a particularly aggressive AI to come out from the edge of your screen as if from nowhere to take you out. Some races are also consecutive affairs, meaning that you’ll be participating in not just one, but perhaps two or three races one after the other with no way to save. It’s forgiving enough to let you take up the start of the last race that you had died in, but that’s it. From what I understand, a patch was even released to make the races optional for players that had enough of being killed by a racer they couldn’t see thanks to the camera views so if you just want to stick to the on-foot stuff, be sure to download the last update.
Fighting is handled from an FPS perspective as Jet attains other weapons, starting with the famous disc weapon that Tron made famous. The disc is going to be your most important weapon, ricocheting off walls and deflecting enemy discs which the film had made famous, but it is also joined by a plethora of other weapons that take a more brutal approach to defending yourself. Most of these weapons, while imaginative in their appearance, are pretty basic in their uses such as a grenade launcher type, a sniper rifle named LOL, and a handheld gun. The action is pretty exciting, though, especially when you use the disc to fight off enemy bosses or a host of Intrusion Countermeasure Programs that see you as a threat.
As in Tron, many of the subroutines, names, and situations that Jet will run across gleefully use computer terms and slang that are taken for granted in its language and Monolith has done an excellent job in carrying on this tradition in 2.0. The world that makes use of Monolith’s Lithtech (Triton) engine is faithful to the world inside the computer networks as seen in the movie, right down to the neon lighting on the programs that live within the mainframes and the glowing edges of the poly walls and obstacles around them. There are a lot of memorable scenes in the game because of this, from the inside of a firewall as you configure it to open a path to another network, to a corrupted server, to running from the leading edge of a drive format as it obliterates everything…and everyone…in its path.
The sound effects are also straight from the film giving fans another reason to raise the volume, and even the music pays homage to the original as its familiar opening greets players as soon as they load it. Many of the themes and area pieces are done well, evoking quite a bit of that retro feeling as they stay close to the spirit of Tron while updating it. The voice acting is also pretty good, especially with Bruce Boxleitner reprising his role as Alan Bradley.
As fun as the game can be, there are a few glitches in the experience. There are more than a few times when the game turns into a platformer which may irritate FPS fans. Much of the game is also centered around finding permissions but it takes that to a whole new level. Where finding one key to get to the next level can be considered to be a chore, how would you feel if you had to find a series of keys just to get into archives that store e-mails and subroutines or to open doors? It can be said that it tries to mimic the nature of what computer security is like, but it also turns the game into a huge key hunt with some combat and action thrown in between to spice things up. This can make much of the gameplay feel extremely linear as a result, although it does reward the curious that like to explore each level for hidden subroutines and bonus build points. However, the interaction with the other ‘programs’ in the game are limited to simple greetings, with a glowing “I” hovering over the head of who you need to talk to next as you’re led to the next encounter.
The upgrade system for subroutines can also be a pretty frustrating experience as some of these can be found later in upgraded forms. Finding optimizer pods that are located in sometimes hard-to-get to spots within many of the areas is something that the player will try to do in order to reduce the size of their favorite subroutines to free up more space for what they’ll need later. It can also be annoying when you’ve used optimizer pods to improve a certain subroutine, only to find it at an equal state or a better version shortly afterwards. Since optimizers are one shot deals, you can easily end up spending their valuable abilities on a subroutine that turns up later as a gold version.
The disc is a fun weapon to play with in the game, but it is also one of the most frustrating to get used to. You can never lose your disc and it’s supposed to come back to you wherever it is, but that’s what it’s ideally supposed to do. In reality, it can easily get lost in the distance forcing you to wait until it comes back, get stuck, or not come back when you call for it until it reaches whatever maximum distance it can, or until it hits something. It needed a lot more polish.
The story starts off with an interesting premise but it quickly gets bogged down as a generic “good vs. evil” plot with few of the nuances that had made the original Tron a cult favorite. When Jet is digitized, for example, his reaction to this life changing experience is nothing more than a few moments of surprise as he slips into his gaming persona and begins to wreak havoc on most everything around him, disabling programs and breaking through codes. We learned about the world of Tron through the eyes of Flynn when he was digitized by the MCP, learning with him as he tried to get a grip on what was going on. None of that is here. There’s even a hint of your typical “estranged father-son” relationship between Jet and Alan, although it’s so briefly explored in the game that it might as well not have been included. As for the ending, it’s just enough to finish what is left of the story. And that’s that.
As you can probably already tell, many of the characters don’t have a lot of depth to them, other than Bruce Boxleitner reprising his role as Alan, along with one other program that helps Jet. Much of the detail behind fCon and their motivations are found in generic emails which appear to be written by high school cliques on-upping each than as a sinister power such as what fans had remembered with David Warner’s Dillinger and the MCP. The main villains as seen in the real world cut scenes that Jet occasionally witnesses from the network side would probably be better at slipping on banana peels in a game of No One Lives Forever. Although the characters and the overall story get short thrift in the title, the scenarios that Jet is forced to face such as finding out how to crash a server to escaping a PDA are pretty imaginative and provide a lot of fun to make up for much of this.
Multiplayer is also supported by the game, although there weren’t many, if any, games out there to choose from. The Xbox benefited from a revamped multiplayer component offering a few more maps, however, so if you want the version with a bit more to offer online, that’s probably the best bet. There’s not a whole lot of modding going on with this title, either.
Fans of Tron now have a chance to see what today’s technology can do with their favorite film in a sort of sequel to its legacy. For the most part, the game follows the original source material in putting together the neon lit universe that they had been introduced to by Disney, although the story and the gameplay are not as revolutionary. It’s still a fun and action filled journey into an imaginative take on the world that lives within every PC as long as you can overlook its shortcomings. The single player experience is definitely the best part thanks to the imaginative environment that it takes place in, but fans looking for the next definitive sequel to the classic will probably have to wait for the next version number.
– World 1-1