Requirements: 700 MHz G4, Mac OS X 10.2.8, 256 MB RAM, 32 MB Radeon 7500/GeForce 2MX, 2.5 GB disk space
Recommended: 1 GHz G4, Mac OS X 10.3.3, 512 MB RAM, 128 MB Radeon 9700/GeForce 4 Ti
Back in the early 80s, the home computer was more and more becoming a common item. The video arcades were booming with new creations from Atari and Midway, among others. And Hollywood was about to be introduced to a technique and technology that would forever change the face of film, literally. The vehicle for this new technology was a little Disney movie called Tron. Although Tron did less than stellar at the box office, it made an indelible mark on the popular landscape that can be seen to this day. Computer-generated images are as commonplace now in television and film as they were foreign back then.
It was with much joy that I received the news that Disney was working on a sequel to Tron. What the rumors didn’t make clear was that the project wasn’t another movie, but a video game. What better way to show how much computer technology had advanced in 20 years than to show that we can do in real time on desktop computers what the Disney animators did painstakingly over the course of a number of years on Cray supercomputers.
Tron 2.0 is the sequel to Disney’s 1982 fantasy flick. Set twenty years after the events of the original movie, 2.0 follows the path of Jet Bradley, Alan Bradley’s son. Jet is a twenty-something programmer who’d rather be playing games than developing them. But with some pushing from Alan, Jet has taken a job at the same company where his father currently works. During a father-son talk via cellphone, something happens to Alan, and Jet races to the laser lab to find out what’s going on. Upon entering the lab, Jet finds his father missing. It appears the company supercomputer, MA3A (pronounced mah-three-ah), has other plans for Jet. You see, an evil virus known as Thorne has taken over the computer world that we remember from the original movie, corrupting data and turning programs into obedient zombies. Only a “user” from the real world can set things right again. MA3A digitizes Jet, à la Flynn, and sends him into the computer world, in all of its glowing neon spandex glory.
This is where the gameplay picks up. Tron 2.0 is basically a first-person shooter, with a few modifications to fit the Tron world. Your main weapon, of course, is your data disc. This glowing Frisbee is how you will dispatch most of your enemies. You will be given access to other weapons, including guns, as the game progresses. But none will be quite as useful, or as readily available, as your “TRON Disc of Death.”
You are led through the game by a “byte,” a more complex version of the “bit” that befriended Flynn in the first movie. Byte will let you know where you should be going in the game by opening doors and activating lifts, and will give you hints on gameplay as you progress through the levels. Byte helps to move the narrative along, so you don’t get too bogged down in a particular section of the game. This helps to keep the game interesting.
The exposition is accomplished by scripted cutscenes done with the in-game engine. I’m glad the developers chose to use the game engine instead of pre-rendering the scenes. It helps to keep the player immersed in the game world, without constantly reminding him that his computer can’t really handle what’s happening on screen right now.
If there is one thing that irks me about the gameplay, it’s that the developers believe that because we are in the world of video games, we need to be jumping all over the place. Well, we don’t. But Tron 2.0 makes you jump, and quite frequently, I might add. You will seldom enter an area that doesn’t contain a pile of glowing neon boxes, with a data box somewhere near the top. The idea, of course, is to jump from box to box to get to the data. At first glance, this may sound easy. But timing jumps in a first-person view is like trying to step off of a curb blindfolded. It’s going to take you a number of tries to get it just right. A number of tries laced with frustration, choice words, and a cordless mouse flying across the room.
When you’re not jumping, the game is a joy to play. On my G5 iMac, I can turn all of the graphic options on full and still be playing at a silky-smooth frame rate for the majority of the game. Let me tell you, the graphics are absolutely beautiful on a powerful enough computer. The neon really glows, just like the movie. The facial expressions of the characters can be seen up close, and voice-overs are well synced with the facial animations. Models appear to have a fairly high polygon count, giving curves a nice round appearance. From the character models to the environment to the inevitable appearance of the light-cycles, they all look just as good, or better than, they looked on the big screen in the 80s.
The sound in this game is absolutely top-notch. Sound effects appear to have been either taken from the originals, or painstakingly designed to sound like the originals, because everything sounds so familiar. From the light-cycle sounds to the disc-flight sounds, to the sound of a de-rezzing guard, you’ll truly feel as if you are there. The voice-overs are excellent as well. It was great that Buena-Vista was able to bring back Bruce Boxleitner to reprise his role as Alan Bradley, as it adds a lot of credibility to the game and also gives it a nice connection to the original. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos provides the voice of Mercury, a program you will meet later in the game. I, for one, could listen to those vocals forever. The extras do an excellent job as well, with a lot of scripted conversations happening as you enter into particular areas (much like Half-life on the PC, only not quite as complex). The score, which borrows from Wendy Carlos’ groundbreaking original soundtrack, is excellent and complements the gameplay without detracting from it. The opening title sequence really shows this off; it’s something you almost wish you could sit through without starting a new game each time.
As excellent as the sound and graphics are, one thing keeps this game from being truly top-notch. As with many other single-player first-person shooters, the multiplayer options seem to be tossed in at the last second. The light-cycle arena, which should be the hallmark of this game, can only be played multiplayer on a LAN. The other multiplayer option, and the only one that allows you to play against others over the Internet, is the disc duel. While this is fun for a while, and the levels are varied, there just isn’t enough there to keep my interest for more than a couple of games. It’s a good thing the single-player game can keep your interest for a number of hours.
While Tron 2.0 is not the big-budget movie that I was hoping it would be, this game does an excellent job of being the sequel to one of my favorite childhood movies. With a solid single-player experience (if you can get over the jumping puzzles), I would definitely recommend giving this one a go. See all you programs on the game grid!