IntroductionWay back when, at the dawn of the age of CGI, Tron was a modern marvel. Unfortunately, it didn't get such great press, and so it would be well over three decades before the film received a sequel in the form of Tron: Legacy. But what about in between? What happened while Disney was sitting atop the franchise waiting for people to forget the failure of the first installment? Well, there was this game called Tron 2.0, made by Monolith Productions, which was supposed to fill the gap for those still waiting for a sequel. What's impressive about it is that despite being based on a film that barely rated as a cult classic, the game managed to be fun and relatively creative without being quite as goofy as the source material, while at the same time retaining its fun and campy tone. At the moment, it's available on Steam for $9.99, which is a pretty decent deal when you balance its age with its quality.
StoryThough the story of Tron 2.0 has been rendered non-canon with the release of Tron: Legacy, it is by no means poorly written. Set decades after the events of the original movie, you play as Jethro "Jet" Bradley, son of Alan Bradley (played once more by actor Bruce Boxleitner). Alan is now head of research and development at ENCOM, the company that created the 'digitization' technology which allowed the original protagonist Kevin Flynn to access the world inside the computer. Flynn himself is nowhere to be seen, and in his absence, ENCOM has been bought out by F-Con Industries in the wake of the dot-com bubble collapse of the early 2000's. This sinister corporation wants the digitization technology for their own nefarious purposes, and Alan's efforts to prevent them from using it get him locked in a storage cupboard until he coughs up the crucial algorithms that make the process work. In an effort to protect her creator, Ma3a (pronounced mah-three-ah), the AI created to run the digitizing systems, lures Jet into the scanning bay and drags him into the binary realm, where the adventure begins.
While the game relies on commendably well-produced motion-capture cutscenes to tell most of the story, there is a large volume of background lore and info regarding the events of the years preceding the game that can be gleaned from e-mails you can collect during missions. This actually makes the world seem that much more immersive while helping to tie events in the real world to those in the digital. To be fair, the dialogue could be written with a little more spark, and there are numerous narrative cliches, but the presentation manages to make up for most of this. My biggest gripe is that the main villains don't really make their presence felt until the last third of the game, which makes them seem somewhat irrelevant until they start sending people to attack you. All in all, Tron 2.0's story is very solid and rather enjoyable, even if you weren't a fan of the first movie.
GameplayTron 2.0 was made in the days when video games were opening up to a wider market, and as a result, game developers had to take into account the fact that their new player base might not all be as patient or smart as the old. The game's tutorial is lengthy and thorough, almost to an irritating degree, though mercifully you can skip it if you like. There are also 'help files', which are always accessible from the pause menu, that can explain basic gameplay and objective info if you get confused. It's also important to note that the game was made before the idea of automated checkpoints had caught on, so unless you want to start a level from scratch every time you die, you should really quick-save quite often.
The game's combat is quick, creative and well-crafted, though it can get annoying towards the end when certain enemies or boss battles come into play. On the whole, it holds up very well for its age. The one thing that could improve it would be a means of slowly recovering your energy for your energy meter, as having to run back and forth between power nodes to recharge it can become tedious. However, since these are usually positioned near health nodes, it isn't totally counter-intuitive.
One of the chief innovations Tron 2.0 employs a system of interchangeable upgrades called subroutines that you can put on or take off at any point provided you have enough space in your inventory. Meanwhile, collectibles scattered throughout the levels can add to your collection or help upgrade Jet and his arsenal, making exploration very worthwhile. The majority of combat revolves around the use of your disc; a digital death-frisbee that is an icon of the Tron franchise and the first means of defense you acquire right off the bat. Given most enemies share your weapons, this makes for some interesting fights, as you can not only bash people with the disc but deflect incoming attacks by using a timed block.
Other enemies, later on, will have other weapons that do not allow this, which is unfortunate because the disc itself requires skill and timing to use correctly. Thankfully this is somewhat balanced out by the fact that the disc is the only weapon that does not drain your energy meter, which is crucial since the said meter allows you to access archive bins, which are virtual treasure chests containing permission keys, story e-mails and new subroutines. Fighting is only half the game, however, since it wouldn't be Tron without light cycles. The iconic vehicles make a return in both single- and multi-player modes, where you struggle to force enemies to crash into the trail left by your cyber-bike while avoiding doing the same yourself, like a 3-D high-speed version of Snake. Power-ups have been added to spice things up, which they do, though I could've done with better camera control during the matches. Regardless, it's a nostalgia trip, and a surprisingly good one, just like the whole game.
Sound & Design
Tron 2.0's design is purposefully minimalist. Everything is simplistic in design, with most textures being made of neon circuit boards and objects offering geometrically perfect forms. It's a very retro-future view of the world inside the computer and sticks close to the original movie's art direction. In this way, I think Tron 2.0 manages to escape the trap of age that many games fall into regarding graphics. When everything in the game is supposed to look simple, it's harder to be disappointed when you look back at it years later (though the light-trail effects are still quite jarring). Honestly, there's not a whole lot to say for the visuals other than that they are good since so much of it was simply pulled from the Tron movie. In regards to how it helps with capturing the odd atmosphere of the film, it's a winner, but Tron 2.0 is more about the story and gameplay than the looks. The same goes for the music and sounds, with its heavy emphasis on synthesizers and electronic noises. Fans of the franchise may even recognize some classic tunes taken from the movie, which you can view as laziness on the developer's part, or part of the nostalgia. Everything is built to remind you that you're in cyberspace, from the way that defeated enemies will 'de-rezz' in a cloud of ones and zeroes rather than spouting blood, to the silly, sometimes cringe-worthy names that pop up over NPC's heads if you use your 'Profiler' subroutine. Tron has always been inherently cheesy, and Tron 2.0 simply seeks to make the best of this. The level design is strong on jumping and platforming, with some secrets requiring a great deal of hopping around on floating boxes to reach secrets. Everything about the game strives to stick to the original vision while trying simultaneously to be as creative as possible. Most of the time, games that try this either flop or fly. Tron 2.0 lies somewhere in between, though its redeeming qualities help prevent it from sliding all the way into the bargain bin.
Final VerdictTaken at face value in the modern world, Tron 2.0 isn't exactly special, but for people who enjoy a good shooter that's aged well and has a few tricks up its sleeve, it's very good. If you are a fan of either Legacy or the original Tron, I would add its creative and respectful take on the universe as a plus as well. The multiplayer is depopulated sadly, and has been for years, so alas, you'll mostly have to rely on fighting AI opponents on the light cycle grids if you want to get more out of the game beyond the campaign. Still, there's plenty of exploration to be done, so it should last you a good while. Add to this the flexible character upgrade system represented by subroutines and it's a blast, offering just enough choice and reward for the right decisions to keep you going. I totally recommend it, and I'm not even a Tron buff.
|+ Fun, Creative Combat||- Largely Defunct Multiplayer|
|+ Solid Story||- Annoying Boss Fights|
|+ Decent Visuals|