TRON 2.0: Killer App – XB – Review

I saw the Disney film Tron on its opening
weekend. Twice. My friend and I were entranced by the visuals and concept.
Programs being people and moving about within the circuit boards of machines as
humans do on city streets and hallways??!! That was a fantastic premise that is
under-appreciated in the Post-Matrix generation we live in today. Still, I
absorb Tron factoids like an addiction. I never got the Tron 2.0 version for the
PC last year, but aside from that, I have been a hard-core fan for over two
decades. In fact, my tech consulting business’s name is borrowed from the movie.
Both my friend and I went on to technical fields based, in part, to the
attraction of what we saw way back then.

The reviews of Tron 2.0 for the PC last year
seemed to be a mixed bag, but I get the feel that most people like it very much.
The film, and game, seem to be a joke to a lot of people these days. Compared to
The Matrix films, Half-life/Halo, Marilyn Manson and other staples of today’s
"slacker-angst" generation, Tron and it’s parallels are silly and dated. It’s
clean, understandable and approachable. Not popular now. Back then, programmer
Alan Bradley had created a program called "Tron" that was a hacking-security
program. With the help of a programmer named Flynn, who is digitized and thrown
into the computer world, the Tron program defeats the evil all-consuming MCP
(Master Control Program) and saves the (digital) world. Along the journey, Flynn
encounters lavish worlds and breath-taking views of a world that we do not see.
Despite popular belief, not much of the original film was CGI. A portion of it
surely was, but mostly it was painstaking manual-art that gave it the look it
projected. Another reason to respect it.

Tron 2.0 picks up a generation after the movie
ends. Alan’s son, Jet, is now the hero and the one that gets to test his meddle
in the digi-domain. Jet has to explore, battle and decipher this world in an
attempt to find his missing Father. Launched into the mainframe as a digitized
user, he has to avoid death from various nefarious means. Your main weapon is
your Identity Disk. Though difficult to explain, think of it as a Frisbee that
holds every Bit of information about you – but can be thrown (then
returns) with deadly results similar to using a boomerang. If Steve Jobs were to
create a weapon, this would be it. 

The arcade Tron game(s) did a good job of
bringing the feel of the game to you, but since this is based on a unseen future
world and (maybe?) on the sequel being developed, there is not as much
familiarity. In fact, some of the familiar items ARE back, but with enhanced
ability (ex: Light Cycles are more advanced). So, you are not as able to
anticipate what actions will occur from various weapons and machines, as there
is no base for reference as existed from seeing the (first) movie. 

Unlike the previous Tron games, this is a
glorified first-person shooter. It kind of goes downhill from there. With the
potential that exists within the Tron universe, a much more imaginative game
could have been created. But, it’s a shooter with dazzling visuals and sidebar
action to keep it fresh enough to be engaging. There is a tremendous amount of
frustrating annoyance to this game. The agonizingly slow (and pointless) load
screens are the first thing to anger you. Almost immediately into starting the
game, you are faced with what seems like an "error." I kept pressing buttons
– thinking something was wrong, or the game was waiting on ME for something.
Nope … it was just loading. I attribute this to the graphical weight. Once the
game resumed, it was utterly lavish and … gorgeous. The movie was known
for it’s look, which took months of hard work to achieve. This game is the same
in that the colors and world in general are – out of this world. The
greens and purples come straight from the pallet of a digital Da Vinci.
Fortunately, the first of the game requires no quick moves, so you can just look
around and enjoy the eye candy. Then, walk up to someone and begin your quest
for information. Yes, there is ample exploring and RPG in addition to
run-and-shoot action. 

There are some nifty features such as being able
to gain strength and knowledge after killing a opponent. If you engage the space
in which he was killed, you can "absorb" his inventory. Like merging his
programming into yours. That might include things that will help you enter areas
or get information to otherwise advance your progress. Like many other games out
there, completing levels gives you enhancements that will help you.
Just like winning a car race and getting better tires with the $$ winnings. You
can tailor your strengths based on what it lacking in your arsenal. Just like
upgraded game releases, you increase your own level (Jet 2.0!). Along
with the upgrades, viruses exist and you must be cleansed if that becomes
an issue.

Everything in the game is parallel to a computer
term or, in some cases, action. The names for items in the game make you feel
like you are constantly reading a tech manual. You don’t just die – it’s known
as "end of line." Ahhh …  flashbacks of mainframe programming!! The
world here is geometry, logic and physics, though does not play like a SAT test.
It’s just that the terms are not familiar like "Super-Gun" or simple, generic
names like that. If you are a absolute newbie with tech-terms, that adds a curve
to recalling what is what – when it matters. One of the most encountered
term-goodies is a "Subroutine." That’s a sleek term for power-up. There are all
kinds of subroutines to help you. One will allow you to move about with more
stealth. Like a RPG in which you carry a small satchel, you are limited to how
much you can hold in your digital-baggie.

The audio is excellent. The voice acting is
top-notch. They have two stars from the original film: Bruce Boxleitner and
Cindy Morgan. Also, as "ma3a", we have the lovely Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Mystique
from the X-Men movies). The environmental sounds are hard to judge
against reality, as I have not explored the insides of a chip in quite a
long time!! But, the sounds are quite nice. The music is good, and adds to the
experience rather than distract you as some scores do. The band "Breaking
Benjamin lent their talents to the music. I know nothing about them, but liked
what I heard. Too bad Information Society’s Kurt Holland is involved with a
competitor game company – his style is a natural for this environment. 

The graphics, to be modest, are awesome.
You traverse a glowing neon world with
flashes and flares that makes it even more lavish. I attribute the horribly slow
and annoying load screens this factor. The load screens are such a issue, it’s
only the reward of the revealed graphics that make it tolerable. The light
cycles are leaps above the original film’s bikes – which were one of the only
CGI elements of the film. 

This game could easily go different ways in it’s
evaluation. I can readily see where it can be liked or hated. I imagine it
depends on your basis of comparison – if that it your prerequisite for a game’s
worth. If you view it as a first-person shooter (only), then I have seen many
that are far superior. If you want a RPG, this is a cluttered mess compared to
the competition. Tron 2.0, like the original film many years ago, is an attempt
to mesh worlds that were not meant to be blended. It’s not the first game to
offer several genres of game in one title, but since it is a game that is (kind
of) about a game, it’s standards are different. The weapons
are unique. The "rewards" system is engaging. It is suited for us geeks that
enjoy the tech-speak and fantasy element of walking around inside the computers
that make up so much of your lives. Yes, the load screens and horrible
jumping/falling aspects are abysmal, but there are also a lot of things to
admire and appreciate. I think the price is good for what it is. I try to avoid
weighing price and quality, but sometimes it helps make a purchasing decision.
In this case, it’s a good value.

Review Scoring Details for

Tron 2.0 Killer App

Gameplay: 7.0
There are tons of annoying, slow load screens and some of the (jumping)
movements are beyond horrible. Despite many, many attempts and failures, I still
do not feel like I have a good grasp of the jumping maneuver. But, there are
fantastic positives such as the light cycles games. Unlike the simple (though
fun) action from the arcades and movie, there are more dimensions to Tron 2.0’s
light cycles battles. There are power-ups and the ability to blow away walls of
light. The weapons are fun and easy to use. There’s nothing more annoying than
getting a cool weapon and no instruction manual! There is a lot of dependence on
the user manual, but overall it’s easy to play and learn.

Graphics: 9.5 
Easily the strongest aspect of the game – the graphics. Glowing rooms,
machines and people. The flashes of light will mesmerize you as you react
to what’s going on. They spent a long time making the visuals more than a subtle
enhancement to the game. In many ways, they ARE the game. 

Sound: 7.5
While not as memorable as the look, the music, voice and sounds stand out
quite well. The music during load screens will drive you nuts, but only because
it serves to remind you that you are waiting … and waiting. It was great to get
original stars to participate in the game. Cindy Morgan plays more than one
role, and Rebecca does a nice job playing her role. It’s always nice when they
snag quality actors for games. I wonder if she will be in the upcoming Tron

Difficulty: Hard
I was surprised at how challenging the game was. I expected a learning
curve, then adjustment… then success. Nothing comes easy in this one. Movement
controls and camera issues still annoy me, but i adapted enough to achieve
moderate success. It will test your patience and thinking. There are puzzles and
combat. If you can’t do both, you’ll find little to enjoy here

Concept: 8.5 
To create a world from imagination is a great, and terrible, assignment.
What would the glowing insides of a microprocessor look like to a living,
breathing program? That does not exist in our world, so creating that has to be
respected. making a game to match the look is a challenge. They could have
rested with knowing it looked good, but with horrible gameplay, all the beauty
is useless. 

XBox Live! enables you to play online
with up to 16 people. That’s pretty amazing. Though I am not a current XBL
subscriber, I fully intend to try this feature out. Exploring the world inside
the computer should be even more enriching with a collection of friends to help
you out.

Overall: 7.5
The super-stripped premise is you are sent in to locate your missing father
while averting a Civil War amongst programs. That is, in the most basic terms,
what’s going on. However, the world is more rich and the experience is more
fulfilling than that simplified analogy. It’s a deep, vast Universe contained
within a tiny virtual space. Like micro-organisms on the leaf of a plant, the
cyber world represented here is full of exploration and things we do not
recognize. Thus, navigation and succeeding in this world requires a lot of
patience and trial and error. It can be terribly frustrating, as when it’s bad – it’s bad. Maybe XBox Live can provide some upgrade patches in the future.
They promise being able to apply new touches to it already … so why not some
improvements on it’s obvious shortcomings? But, it is what it is; and that’s
good enough for now. I found it to be rewarding and full of replay interest. I
was often frustrated to point of walking away from movement "errors," but I soon
returned to the glowing world to try again. I look forward to trying it online –
to see how deep the digital rabbit hole goes.