TRON 2.0 Review

| | Comments (0)
Publisher: Buena Vista Interactive
Developer: Monolith

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: PIII/AMD 500 MHz, 256MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 16-Bit Sound Card, DirectX 9, 8x CD-ROM, 2.4 GB HD Space

More than twenty years ago, with the help of a sophisticated security program called TRON, game programmer Kevin Flynn prevented an artificial intelligence (A.I.) from taking control of the world's computer systems and everything they influence. Unfortunately, when the Master Control Program was destroyed, the correction algorithms needed to successfully digitize organic life were also lost. Alan Bradley, creator of the original TRON security program, has worked for the last two decades to recreate the correction algorithms needed to transform a person into data still capable of functioning in the digital world. While the algorithms are finally in place, the discovery is not in time to prevent Alan's company from being taken over by Future Control Industries (fCon).

Neither fCon's name nor their intentions are innocent. With control of the digitizing technology, they plan on sending accomplished hackers directly into the networked digital world to unearth and control all valuable data worldwide. Through digital control as well as real-world blackmail and intimidation, fCon expects to seize control of the computer-using world. Fearing abuse of the technology, Alan has hidden the correction algorithms in his laboratory assistant program, Ma3a, and instructed the program to defend itself. Knowing that users are more effective inside the digital world than working through a terminal, Ma3a digitizes Alan's son to come to her defense. Jethro Eugene Bradley (known as Jet) is a skilled programmer and hacker himself, now finds himself inside the computer, working to defend Ma3a, aid his father, and foil fCon's plans of world domination.

Kyle Ackerman

When Jeff Bridges (as programmer Kevin Flynn) was digitized more than two decades ago in the film TRON and thrown into a stylized world that represented the inner workings of the computer, we were given a brand new set of imagery that exploited the (then) state of the art capabilities of computer graphics. We were also given a framework to understand and dramatize the binary world, in which programs are portrayed as humans, you can watch haulers transport data as the microcycles tick by and old accounting software can be retooled to compete for our entertainment on the game grids in a digital version of the gladiatorial games. The Kernal marshals the security forces on the server in the form of Intrusion Countermeasure Programs (ICPs), and everything is suffused with the striking neon glow we first encountered in the movie.

For all of the fancy visual trappings, TRON 2.0 is essentially two games – a first person shooter (FPS) and a Light Cycle game. The single-player FPS game begins when Jet is digitized and is what most people will remember when they think of TRON 2.0. Ma3a, the laboratory assistant that contains the correction algorithms is a descendent of Math Assistant One Audio (Ma1a), a voice recognition capable program. Alan Bradley was unavailable, taken by fCon personnel, so Ma3a drags Jet Bradley (Alan Two) into the computer to protect her. Realizing that the world inside the computer seems strange to a user, Ma3a provides a set of tutorials to orient Jet.User to combat and interactions in the digital world. Guiding Jet through his tutorial is a byte, capable of more sophisticated interactions than the familiar bit that followed Kevin Flynn and his program CLU in TRON ("Ma3a wouldn't send a bit to do a byte's job, let me tell you mister!")

A Computer FPS in ... The Computer!

In many ways, TRON 2.0 adheres to the standard conventions of the FPS, but they actually work better within the framework of this game than in others. Sure, you run around, incapacitating enemies and solving simple puzzles, but it is much more satisfying to do so in a perfectly rendered stylized world rather than a world that tries hard to duplicate real-life visuals. It seems bizarre when a conventional FPS hero is shot multiple times, picks up a first-aid kit, and is suddenly hale and hearty. Inside the computer, Jet may have been partially disrupted by rogue programs, but he can restore the health of his code by accessing a patch routine. You don't find weapons lying around behind tables, instead, old data (such as e-mails) and subroutines are in archive bins. You don't search dead bodies for keys or useful items, rather, destroyed programs deposit a core dump that contain extra health, energy and useful permissions and subroutines. The mechanics are all essentially the same, but they make more sense in the world of TRON 2.0.

Players can configure Jet to approach the digital world in different ways. Throughout the network, Jet can collect subroutines to augment his performance. Even without subroutines, he will eventually have access to four weapon "primitives," and can defragment bad memory blocks, disinfect corrupted files and port foreign subroutines so that he can install them. The subroutines enhance and add to his functionality and they come in three varieties: combat, defense and utility. Combat subroutines can be installed to give weapon primitives more diverse functions. For example, the rod primitive is a melee weapon that can derez (destroy) enemies at close range. With the Suffusion subroutine the rod can be used as a program's equivalent of a shotgun, and with the LOL subroutine it becomes the equivalent of a sniper rifle. Defensive subroutines act as armor, providing protection against attacks and have names such as Peripheral Seal (arm protection) and Truncate (torso protection). These also include a viral shield that provides protection against attacks that might corrupt subroutines or memory. Utility subroutines can reveal information about other programs (the Profiler), increase the power of attacks (Primitive Charge or MegaHurtz) or help you jump higher (Y-amp).

What makes this fun is the challenge of configuring Jet's system for any given encounter. Subroutines come in three varieties: alpha, beta and gold. Alpha subroutines take up a lot of memory and don't work nearly as well. Gold subroutines are highly refined and maximize effect while minimizing memory usage. Depending on the system Jet occupies, there may be a lot of available memory, or nearly none. A mainframe has a lot more memory than a desktop PC, and a PDA has nearly no surplus resources. Also, early in the game, Jet may have fewer subroutines, but they tend to be alpha and beta routines that take up more space, so there are always decisions to be made. Over the course of the game you find ways to optimize code (bringing it to beta from alpha, or gold from beta), so it's also vital to carefully choose which routines to upgrade. You could choose to upgrade the Fuzzy Signature subroutine to move more quietly in pursuit of stealth or upgrade weapons subroutines to be a battle powerhouse. Furthermore, Jet can upgrade his own status by acquiring build points and increasing his version number. Each time he reaches a milestone (e.g. 1.0.0 or 4.0.0), he can upgrade the fundamentals of his program. These include his capacity to store energy, his total health, or the rapidity with which he can disinfect corrupted subroutines.

Discs and Puns

Combat is also a refinement of the FPS genre. While you can use the LOL subroutine to snipe or acquire the Prankster Bit subroutine to use as a digital missile launcher, disc combat is different. The discs can block attacks as well as derez foes. Blocking is key to success in TRON 2.0, and is particularly powerful in conjunction with the Power Block subroutine that converts a disc block into a powerful blast. The discs are the signature weapon from the film, and just as the light saber is the single most entertaining weapon in Jedi Knight II, the disc is what makes combat in the FPS portion of the game truly stand out. That said, even on the easier difficulty levels (which can be changed mid-game), combat is challenging, and you'll need to quick-save a lot to avoid being derezzed and seeing the "End of Line" screen that makes reloading your only option.

Aside from combat, the setting of TRON 2.0 is even more entertaining for pun lovers and computer users with a sense of humor. To optimize your subroutines you need to find Code Optimization Ware. If you didn't get that, C.O.W.s wander the digital landscape, seeming to graze on extraneous code. The Kernal controls security, and programs infected with a virus by Rector scripts are known as Z-Lots. Later in the game, you get a break against a difficult boss because the system's resources are overwhelmed by Resource Hogs. Resource Hogs have enjoyed so many updates and expansions that they need to terminate other programs to free up needed resources for their subroutines, and feature names like cookie_query.exe and ad_banner.exe. When someone wants to communicate with you from afar, they'll signal you with a ping, at which point you need to find an I/O Port through which to communicate. To find another program you'll have to go to a happening joint called the Progress Bar in which the DJ script calls you "'Pro." You even have missions such as overclocking an older system, or turning on all the programs in a PDA to overwhelm its resources. Killing a civilian (non-security) program causes an illegal program termination, which will end the game in a system error.

Jumping Isn't Fun, But Production Values are Amazing.

For all the things TRON 2.0 does right, there are far too many places that look like jumping puzzles or where you can fall to your doom by derezzing. Granted, there are few places you actually must jump, but there are plenty of times you'll want to jump between floating data blocks to reach archive bins that contain useful subroutines, permissions or e-mails and video archives that provide context to the story. A short fall or a missed jump will derez Jet, and this happens more often than is fun. Even the developers seemed to question the value of jumping puzzles when they noted in the command text that appears on the screen to give you system information "(jump=true : ?!?fun)." Once again, the quick-save/quick-load combination is your friend, but it's much more likely that you'll fall off blocks or platforms to your doom than that you'll suffer at the hands of security scripts. There is also a puzzle, in which you have to run past read-only (indestructible) tanks just like the ones in the movie that is simply irritating.

Jumping seems to be the game's only real failing. The visuals are amazing, especially given that the developers could explore a stylized world with neon highlights rather than attempt to perfectly reproduce stone walls in a castle. There is a great voice cast, including Bruce Boxleitner reprising his original role as Alan Bradley, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as the program Mercury and Cindy Morgan (also from TRON) as Ma3a. The sounds perfectly capture the scheme of the original film, and while the new music is great, when you explore a twenty-year old system, you get the original music from the film.

And There's a Whole Additional Game

Everything mentioned so far just covers the FPS portion of the game. There is also an entire Light Cycle game that comes with TRON 2.0. This classic game has you racing through arenas, trailing walls of light that can be used to block or entrap your opponents. Several Light Cycle levels are embedded in the single-player campaign, but there is a whole game where you can try specially crafted levels as a Light Cyclist, competing against computer foes on circuits. As you complete circuits, you unlock better cycles that can be used to increase your chances against other programs on the Gaming Grid. The arenas are filled with obstacles, much more complex than a simple open square, and there are a variety of power-ups that can give you an advantage against other scripts. The Light Cycle component isn't enough to justify purchase of TRON 2.0 alone, but is an excellent supplement to the FPS game. Multiplayer disc combat is available over the internet, and multiplayer Light Cycle play is available on a LAN due to the need for very low pings. Internet latency makes it difficult to enjoy even disc combat as you work to derez human foes on the internet. Also, humans don't telegraph their disc throws, so between the lack of visual cues and lag it can be difficult to orchestrate a block. Still, between the story and the Light Cycle game, the computer provides more than sufficient single-player play.

In summary, TRON 2.0 is an FPS that provides a great single player experience and a Light Cycle experience that seems like a bonus game. With excellent production values, a great setting, and a fun (but not intrusive) story, TRON 2.0 is not to be missed.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 2, 2003 10:22 AM.

Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader Review was the previous entry.

Perfect Ace: Pro Tournament Tennis Review is the next entry.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Add to Technorati Favorites