Remaking old films is all the rage in Hollywood these days, but remaking old films as games, like Tron 2.0? I mean, honestly, is the culmination of computer gaming in 2003 really an emulation of a first-generation CGI flick from 1982? Do we really want to go back to a time when blue neon was deemed futuristic and chaps in fluorescent catsuits could pass themselves off as computer viruses? Do we?
Well... actually, yes, I think maybe we do. Having played the latest code of Tron 2.0 for a couple of weeks now, I have to say it's looking surprisingly compelling. The old Disney hacker flick always begged to be turned into a shooter, and this is looking exactly like the game the film always promised to be. Only about half the levels are in our beta build, but we've found ourselves being drawn more deeply into its neon-clad levels than most recent FPS have managed. Blending the humour and playability of Monolith's recent No One Lives Forever 2 with the retro sylings of Hollywood's original digital feature, Tron 2.0 could put neon highlights back on the map. And let's face it, The Matrix is just Tron in a trenchcoat anyway.
The Spector Of Inspiration
What's immediately apparent from the beta code is that while NOLF 2 has infected the design of Tron 2.0, there's also a powerful influence from Deus Ex, most keenly felt in the skill and upgrade systems. As an action-RPG, Tron relies on 'build points' and subroutines' to gradually develop your character (digitized programmer Jet Bradley). The former can be found or earned, crementing Jet's code from version 1.0 and up. Each full version awards attribute points to bump up health and energy capacities, as well as several other characteristics.
Subroutines, on the other hand, are the core items used for weaponry, defense and utilities. They can be ograded from alpha to beta and gold versions, though chances to do so appear to be quite rare, so quickly bumping a single attribute up to gold (the enemy profiler routine, say) is not such a great idea. Management of subroutines looks to be a core element of the game, as different missions will see Jet equipped with varying amounts of free memory for programs. The benefit of upgrading is that each piece of code gets smaller, allowing you to equip more subs at once.
The graphics core is a heavily modified version of the LithTech Jupiter engine, and despite seemingly flat textures, the trademark glow is beautifully conveyed. While there's potential for all that neon to become either monotonous or headache inducing, the levels are easy to navigate and full of scenic highlights. You can have a great time just wandering around the levels taking in the exotic cybertech designs, enjoying the fact that they aren't bloody corridors.
No Floppy Necessary
Tron 2.0 also features a unique weapon in the shape of the ubiquitous disc. It's the linchpin of the combat system, so poor implementation could have crippled the game, but the Monolith boys seem to have nailed it. Aiming is intuitive, and if you spend enough time with the thing, careening it off a wall or two and into the back of a guard's head isn't out of the question. My only complaint is that the disc flies at such speed that while you can steer it to a certain extent in midair, doing so is difficult. That's nitpicking, of course, and while there are other weapons in the game, I found myself playing only with the disc through most levels.
What are the other weapons, then? A dongle? A bot that spams aggressors with Increase your penis size' emails? Sadly, no. Monolith has translated the classic array of FPS weaponry into loosely computerised analogues. A 'rod primitive' (save the giggles, lads) forms the basis for everything from a stungun to sniper rifle (called the LOL'), depending on the subroutines you've got. While the disc is the star, I found the extra firepower handy at times.
On Yer Bike!
The other draw is the stylish lightcycle, updated for the game by original designer Syd Mead. Halfway though the preview code, I was thrust into the saddle with naught but a quick tutorial to fend off an ignominious de-rezzing (that's death to you meat-based folk). Control of the grid-based bike is very simple, and anyone who's ever played Snake on a mobile while waiting for the tube will be right at home. A few power-ups have also been added - turbo boosts and a shield that allows you to break through walls - but the basic scheme is the same. The camera views might take a bit of getting used to, but don't appear too problematic.
The demo on this month's coverdiscs also give you a sneak peek at the multiplayer disc arena (Discs of Tron, anyone?) and multiplayer lightcycle tourneys. They are probably too lightweight to take off online, but on a LAN with some mates both options could be life-draining fun. As it is, 2003 is going to be a year for very serious competition in the FPS arena. But if the finished game can follow through on the promise shown in these early levels, Tron 2.0 could offer the same refreshing change that NOLF2 was last year. Here's hoping lightning is about to strike again.
Download Tron 2.0
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Who Needs the next big thing? We've only scratched the surface of most genres, because the focus is always bigger, better, and more. There's a constant need to reinvent the wheel, and it's a bore. Look to Hollywood for guidance - this year of glorious, stupefying, high-tech rubbish should be a warning to all. I'll go with picking a story and telling it well anytime. Which brings me to Tron 2.0, which has a beautifully unified design, a decent storyline and the humour and good sense to carry it all off.
Little By Little
The hero is punk programmer Jet Bradley. His father (film hero Alan One) has been kidnapped while working on matter digitising algorithms, and before long, Jet finds himself doing the binary bop, ie he gets digitised into a computer.
Suddenly, he's battling against system resources and corrosive green viral agents, leading to deadly crossfires and plot twists galore. The storyline is superbly acted and well scripted, and tackles both the mystery behind Jet's father's kidnapping, and Jet's own unravelling conflict within the computer system.
The graphics are some of the most attention grabbing in memory. It's one thing to throw together a bunch of neon lines and geometric surfaces, but quite another to create a believable world out of it all. The use of light and negative space has never been used to such great effect. Soaring vistas have become almost cliche in the FPS genre, but Tron 2.0 manages to approach these in an all-new way. Just when you think you're going to get bored of the visuals, something new surprises you.
The film Tron had incredible geek appeal, and fans will find a lot to like here. The ICP Kernel deadpans, "Broaden the search criteria," while you pull off core dumps, permission sets and I/O protocol. Viral attacks corrupt your weapon and defence subroutines, adding another level to combat. Every traditional element of the FPS works perfectly without breaking character. Meanwhile, memorable film elements are seamlessly blended in every frame. Are the Wachowski brothers listening?
Getting Into It
Granted, Tron's influences are obvious. Derived from Deus Ex, the character/inventory screen is a treat, allowing you to view and upgrade stats, manage skills via subroutine installation and even defrag corrupted storage blocks. It's quite elegant, with a lot of very approachable info. This feature also allows you to tackle levels in slightly different ways, as you can improve your stats in all kinds of ways, ranging from stealth to combat. Meanwhile, the archive bins dotted around each level are full of downloadable pickups and are reminiscent of Tribes, but securely tethered to Tron's basic premise. Regardless, it feels like an original setup, even if it's not.
Jet's game disc is stunning. For those that don't know, this is the primary weapon from the movie, a Frisbee-like weapon which can both kill and deflect enemy attacks. Upgrades allow it to amplify attacks, snipe and fire multi-disc volleys. And the pace at which it moves is simply phenomenal. Blocking shots requires snap timing, and the zoom mode can be difficult to escape. Apart from these minor niggles though, there's little else to complain about. There are also a host of more conventional, yet still upgradeable FPS weapons to use. but I'd have been more impressed if Jet had only the disc to rely upon. There's little need for anything else.
Your deadly Frisbee isn't the only one. Individually, ICP enforcers are easy targets. But three or more produce a swarm of disc fire able to take you out in seconds. Bomb-toting viral agents are equally relentless. Luckily, friendly fire really is your ally, and with half a dozen discs bouncing through a room, enemies inevitably take each other out.
One downside is the relatively small crew of enemies. ICP redshirts, viral loonies and an occasional airborne patrol drone are your primary foes. Tron embraces the notion that throwing new bad guys into the mix every other level isn't necessary. It's a nice idea, but more character models, even driven by the same Al, would have been welcome.
Meanwhile, despite the seemingly flat textures, extensive geometry makes Tron 2.0 a bit of a resource hog, so don't even think about running it on a minimum spec system.
The framerate issues are a shame, because in every other respect Tron 2.0 is a neat piece of work. Nearly everything the game tries is accomplished with style and apparent ease, and quality and originality is evident throughout. Once public servers are running, we'll be first in line to try the disc tournaments and light-cycle grids which come as their very own sub-games. Until then, we'll stay busy burning our retinas with gorgeous neon geometry in the single-player campaign.
I'm not the type to get sentimental, but during my childhood, I must've watched Tron at least 20 times. Its mesmerizing visual effects, and entertaining, epic quest-style story were very compelling to my young mind. Entertaining the prospect of playing the video game was hard enough, as there was so much built up in my mind about how the Tron universe worked, its look, feel, sound, and if they managed to screw up one of my childhood favorites, I didn't plan on being amicable about it. While I was relieved to see that there was so much that they did right, I'm dismayed that so much of this game went wrong. It's hard to categorize it, so expect this to read more like a checklist of the good, the bad, and the ugly, with a little bit of order thrown in.
Far and away, the visuals in Tron 2.0 are gorgeous. I've heard some people argue that for such a simplistic, black lit setting, Tron 2.0 could've been done with yesterday's technology. I'll say that they're outright wrong, as the scope of some of these visual effects should convince anyone that they deserve a good, high-end graphics engine. While they do not dominate the game, some of the level designs in this title show off the amazing capabilities that the Lithtech engine possesses.
Second, this game features excellent character design. With the ability to load and upgrade various pieces of software that you gain throughout the game, you can redesign your character on the fly. The better the upgrade, the smaller the amount of memory it consumes.
By far, Tron 2.0's greatest weakness is it's lack of good sound design. Watch Tron the movie, and you'll hear ambient noise that is unique to the computer generated universe, noise that isn't replicated in the game. Just as with playing a Star Wars title, ambient noise should've been one of the higher priorities, as it just isn't convincing when I don't hear the beeps and bleats that I remember from the movie.
Tron 2.0 is also filled with boring, stale, static environments. You don't get to see a great deal of movement or activity going on, and with tight camera angles in narrow canyon-like levels, you don't get to see the wide, strange scope of terrain that Tron engenders.
Now, I'm not one to flinch at the sight of a tough game, however, Tron 2.0 is extraordinarily difficult. While it isn't impossible it does require saving every few seconds, for fear of getting my ass so badly kicked that I couldn't hope to continue.
Once you get far enough through the game, you may also be disappointed by the storyline, which practically duplicates any number of other games, including offering up four boss battles, as if FPS games even needed such a thing anymore.
Finishing out my review is a brief nod to the multiplayer portions of Tron 2.0. Just as in the single player campaign, you may find the design of Light Cycle combat to be aggravating in the extreme. Hard to control, and not easy to learn, it wasn't something that I'd like to repeat, and given how long I've been waiting to play a new Light Cycle game, that says a lot. Combat is intriguing and with the disc arena offering tournament style combat, this can be fun. Now, if theyd only made a tank and jai-alai mini-game, like from the film'
When it comes down to it, I'd play this again if only for the fact that it was Tron, but aside from that (and in some cases, not even) it's on the low, low end of my FPS scale, right there alongside Undying and sitting on top of Daikatana. Lot's o' fluff, no polish.