Buena Vista did a good job of characterization in this game. The villains are bad without being unbelievably evil (except for the CEO of the evil company that we never see). However, the game tries to have a little love story but it comes across so flat I didn’t even get it until the very end.
I thought the inventory system was great and it fit very well in the world of Tron. This is the inventory that Deus Ex 2 should have had. It’s simple, but effective—it makes you choose your resources carefully since you have limited space, but allows you to take your upgrades (they call them subroutines—clever) in and out at any point—you don’t have to stick to a given set. Whats nice is that your subroutines can get upgraded—there are 3 states to every subroutine: Alpha, Beta, and Gold (again, very clever). The alpha subroutines are big (they take 3 inventory slots) and don’t give you much. Beta subroutines take up 2 slots and do more, Gold take 1 slot and are the ultimate version. You can find optimizers around (nicely visualized as little vacuum cleaner like things) that will “optimize” your code—they change an Alpha subroutine into a Beta, or a Beta into a Gold.
They also have a sort of RPG-like character development system. There are a few stats, like health (hit points) and energy, that you can upgrade at certain points. Again, they cleverly call this your version number. You start at something low (1.0.0 maybe? I can’t remember). You gather these weird gold things that populate the map (and they tell you how many of them per level there are so you can search for them) and these bump your version number. Also, accomplishing tasks bumps your version number up. When your major version number changes you level up and can apply 5 or 6 points into your existing stats to upgrade them as you see fit. In the end you have a character that is customized to your liking with upgrades that suit your play style. It reminded me a lot of Deus Ex—I quite liked it.
The realization of the world of Tron was great. I already mentioned how they got the style right, but they also had ordinary object cleverly converted to software and computer lingo. This was a hallmark of the movie, but this game does it so well and so pervasively that I was constantly laughing out loud at the sheer cleverness of it all. I dare say they did this better than the movie itself. Maybe it’s because the designers were game programmers themselves (or at least I’m sure they had access to all the programmers they needed) but they just got everything right. I loved the crates. They call them “archives” and they are populated with emails, subroutines and permission bits. Permissions? Yes, they have 8 permissions that are effectively keys. But I never minded that it was just the standard first person shooter hunt-for-the-keys in disguise because it fit the world so well. Plus you never had to hunt too much for the specific permissions needed to continue the game. If there was a locked door that you needed to get through you could be sure that half the enemies in the area would drop the appropriate key.
There is a variety of weapons, starting with the all important disc. This is one of the only weapons that doesn’t drain your energy and so you end up using it a lot. There are a number of “base weapons” that you get through the game. The rest are subroutines that you get to change the nature of the base weapon (and these subroutines are the very ones that can be upgraded to Gold, described above). I had no problem with the weapons except that the disc was a little finicky sometimes, veering up or to the side right when it should have been hitting someone. Maybe they blocked it, but it was sometimes unclear.
As a game Tron 2.0 was fun. But I noticed early on that I was having the most fun when I wasn’t constantly battling people. I realize this was a first person shooter, but I felt that the game had so much more potential if it lightened up on the action and did some interesting things with the levels (beyond hunt-for-the-switch). There was some pretty nice levels, one in particular involved these massive lenses—I liked the way that particular puzzle played out. There are some boss fights, and some were pretty hard, but I was able to get through them with a minimum of frustration. There were, however, some parts of the game that were completely maddening and glaringly hard, I thought. One in particular had me starting with full health and energy (where I quick-saved) and then getting picked off by the equivalent of Quake’s rail gun and dying within 10 seconds. This section took me about 20 tries to get right and it was not very much fun at all. It just seemed so out-of-place, difficulty-wise. But aside from a small number of areas like that it was a pretty well balanced game. As the character got stronger you could actually tell the difference, and I began to feel like somewhat of a bad-ass toward the end.
I should also mention the light cycles. They are there, they are nicely implemented, and yes, it’s better than GLTron (the enemies have much nicer AI, and there’s power-ups). It threw me for a loop the first time because the trails on the light cycles disappear after a while (so that it’s a little like playing “snake”), but I found this made for a much better game play experience. It really changed the dynamic dramatically, and for the better I thought. The light cycle part is also available from the main menu as a separate game, with new cycles unlocked in classic racing game fashion. You can also play multi-player light cycles on a LAN. Sweet.
Overall I liked this game a whole lot. I am simultaneously disappointed, paradoxically, because after seeing how well the world of Tron (I guess the biz people would call it the license) translates onto the computer screen, I wanted more innovative game play. When you strip away it’s trapping, it has fairly linear level design and little player control over the what happens. I would have loved to see this game with some Deus Ex or Thief style play—Where you’re more free to go about your business and do things in the order and they way you want to do them. There were a couple things that I felt were missing: I would have really liked a minigame of tank driving. The classic tanks do make an appearance, but you never get to drive them. And there was one in game cut-scene that tied the real and computer worlds together in a brilliant manner that could have been turned into a really neat level, but it sadly never happened. I also would have really liked more places like the city you go through at one point, where there are other people (excuse me, programs) around minding their own business and not bothering you. I guess I would have liked it slightly more RPG-like and less FPS-like. And that is the only reason I’m not giving it 5 stars—because it could have been something revolutionary but instead it comes across as merely great.