Tron 2.0 came out for the PC in 2003, a sequel of sorts to the 1982 classic sci-fi film starring Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner. Boasting an updated look and sensibility, as well as voice talent from the original film (most notably Boxleitner, reprising his role), Tron 2.0 was a moderate success. Over a year later Buena Vista has given us Tron 2.0: Killer App for the X-Box, basically the same game but with more multiplayer features and X-Box Live support.
In a genre that currently focuses on high quality and highly textured graphics, Tron 2.0 stands out with highly stylized vector-looking graphics and almost no textures at all. Using simple lines and glowing neon lights, the game fully realizes the look that the conceptual designers of the film were probably going for. It really does look and feel like you are in the Tron world and is a welcome change from the gritty realism thatis so often coveted in first-person shooters.
Syd Mead, the lead designer of the film, even contributed a few new designs to the game, most notably the ‘super light cycle’, a modernized souped-up version of the classic cycle (which make their appearance as well). Character designs are distinctive and modern while remaining faithful to the material.
Where the digital realm of the computer comes off spectacularly, the real-life segments of the cut-scenes really stick out like a sore thumb. You can’t just use the same blocky low-poly model with exaggerated features, stick a texture on it, and pass it off as ‘real’. Mind you, this only comes up in the cut scenes, but it’s really jarring when it happens.
Killer App boasts exceptional voice talent, music that effectively recalls the film and great sound effects. Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan, both stars of Tron the movie, headline the voice cast, quite nicely bridging the twenty- plus year gap between film and game. The music continues the trend by adhering to the motion picture soundtrack at its core, but adding more contemporary flourishes. And of course, sound effects are lifted from the film where possible, completing the classic Tron ambiance.
This is where Killer App had the chance to shine a little brighter than it’s PC counterpart. The PC controls at times seemed a little ill-suited for a mouse and keyboard, and I always felt that a controller would make things easier (can you say light-cycles?). Well, now that I’ve got my wish, I kind of wish I could go back to the mouse. It isn’t that it’s a first-person shooter- Halo and Halo 2 cured me of that gripe. Sure, the controls could be a little tighter, but it’s certainly workable. The light-cycle controls actually do work a little better here; mapping directional controls to the left and right triggers was a step in the right direction. No, the biggest disappointments lie in the ‘subroutine’ management screen and weapon selection interface. Subroutines are basically like items or power-ups and you have to manage them via the same interface as the PC version. It worked great when all you had to do was point, click and drag, but turns out to be a real pain in the butt with an xbox controller. But while that is mostly just an annoyance, it’s the awkward weapon selection control-set that frustrated me the most, especially during multiplayer. Tapping the X button, cycling through a menu of weapons both up and down AND left and right, and finally making a selection by hitting X again. There’s nothing worse than getting derezzed because you were just standing there like an idiot scrolling through your weapon inventory.
The story of Tron 2.0: Killer App is pretty much the same as Tron 2.0. You play Jet Bradley, the son of Alan Bradley, a programming wiz-kid of the same caliber as Flynn (the Jeff Bridges character from the movie). Alan disappears and it’s up to his son to enter the digital world to rescue him and fend off the virus that’s threatening to take over the company mainframe.
Technology has come a long way since Tron, especially when it comes to computers and the Internet and the streamlined techno-world of users and programs has kept up with the times. The anthropomorphism of programs works even better today than it did in 1982, and where the stylized computer-speak once sounded foreign and fantastical, it now acts as a nice contextual backdrop to the world you have been transported into- level-ups add ‘build points’, story elements are hidden in ‘archive bins’ and emails, power-ups are ‘sub-routines’.
There are basically two types of gameplay in Tron 2.0: first-person perspective and light-cycles. Most of the time it plays as a run-of-the-mill shooter, which isn’t a bad thing, but when it comes to the jump puzzles it would have been nice to have the option to go third person (would’ve looked cool, too). Of course, you have a Disc, which ends up being the best bet as a weapon choice for much of the game. Most of the secondary weapons don’t really pack enough oomph for my tastes, tending to be lame representations of standard shooter weaponry, and I found myself coming back to the disc or variations of the disc quite a bit. I’m reminded of the lightsabre in Jedi Outcast- why use anything else?
Light-cycle levels appear intermittently throughout the game and they are a little bit easier to control this time around. Power-ups are peppered throughout the tracks giving super speed, trail spikes and shields to help turn the tide in your direction. Super Light-cycles are of course faster and cooler, but you have to earn one of those. For some reason I always expected these levels to be really cool, but the necessity for twitch maneuvers and repeating the track over and over again until you finally win to progress the story got old fast. You can also play through a ‘circuit’ independently of the main story, not to mention online; a little cooler, but still coming off a little bleh. I think fond memories of plunking in many a quarter into the original coin-op may have set my expectations too high where this is concerned.I was really looking forward to the multiplayer/ Live features of this game, and I’m sad to say I feel pretty let down. The online multiplayer of the PC version fell pretty flat for me, especially with the hard to control light-cycles, and I was positive console-izing the game would address my grievances. With several types of games available for multi- deathmatch, team deathmatch, lightcycles, and the new hybrid deathmatch/ lightcycle mode, OverRide- things looked promising. Unfortunately, poor map design hinders the fun, and its really depressing to see so much potential wasted. Deathmatch maps are too wide open, with very little to duck and cover behind, lightcycle maps are very large, to the point where it may take a while before you actually see an opponent, and OverRide maps are just confusing; not enough space to cruise in the lightcycle at times, and too much space when you’re on foot. The mode seems more like a novelty than anything. Hopefully we’ll see a few new maps as time goes on, but will the game be forgotten by then? Coming out at about the same time as the current King-Of-Shooters, Halo2, hasn’t helped the online community, either.