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What many people might not realize is that when the original Tron movie came out in 1982, deep within its glitzy (for the time) computer graphics and backlit settings simulating a video game world, it was all just another gladiator movie. It was Spartacus of the digital age, where "programs" are portrayed as slaves forced to fight to the death in gladiatorial combat on the Game Grid under the watchdog eyes of the Master Control Program. Only a devout religious belief of their gods, a.k.a. "Users," can bring a sign of hope.
Tron's visuals were state of the art for the time, but 20 years later it would be easy for a desktop PC to recreate the movie. Monolith's Tron 2.0 is called up to the task.
As hacker Kevin Flynn would say, "Sherman, set the Wayback machine for 20 years ago."
When trying to search for game programs that he created but were annexed by another employee, Flynn is shot by a laser created by his former employee, ENCOM, and digitized into their 511 computer. There, along with an imprisoned security program named Tron (developed by current ENCOM programmer Alan Bradley), they fight their way to the MCP with vital data that will make the 511 a free system. They succeed, and Flynn is returned back to the real world.
Now 20 years later, Alan Bradley is in charge of ENCOM's Research and Development, particularly the digitizing technology his eventual wife Lora worked on in the first movie. The only problem is that ENCOM is in financial trouble and a rival corporation, Future Control Industries, is on the verge of a hostile takeover. Seeking the digitizing technology for their own ill-gotten needs, they abduct Alan.
Enter his son, Jethro (or Jet) a loose cannon during his school days, but a dedicated hacker in the same level as Flynn once was. While his father wants Jet to make a serious career decision with ENCOM, he is happy as a game designer and wants to stay that way. But when he hears about his father being abducted, he checks the lab, where Alan's new computer interface, known as Ma3a (pronounced Ma-THREE-uh) is stored - but he is mysteriously digitized without any explanation.
Thus, Jet is now in the same situation that Flynn was in from the movie, but instead of being enslaved by the MCP, he is now an "unauthorized program" hunted by ICPs (security programs) and facing other corrupted programs just to find out why Ma3a digitized him and what happened to his father.
Most of the game will take place in a first person perspective as Jet explores key areas of ENCOM's computers, but at certain occasions the game will switch to light cycle combat with both the original movie light cycles and new Super Light Cycles developed by Syd Mead exclusively for 2.0. While it is nice to see the return of the light cycles, I feel the implementation could have been better. The control scheme can be downright confusing at times, especially when coupled with the camera control. However the weak cycle AI will cause opponents to end up killing themselves, meaning you just have to race around and survive.
Aside from the cycles, the rest of the game flows smoothly. Combat is a breeze, especially with the default disc weapon, which can be thrown, controlled in mid-air, swung as a melee weapon, and is even capable of blocking opponent's discs, ricocheting them back to the thrower and giving him a bit of de-resolution. As the game progresses more weapon "subroutines" will be found, but they are based on the standard FPS vein. For instance, the hilariously named "LOL" is actually a sniper rifle, while the "Diffusion" subroutine emulates a shotgun. I found that most of the time I stuck with my trusty disc, which is deadly when handled like a pro.
While on the subject of subroutines, they are downloaded via special "crates" and include other features such as suppressing your footsteps, adding armor, adding special features to your disc weapon, and most importantly, fighting against viruses.
Viruses are a major concern as Ma3a's system has also been infected with "corrupted programs," and when they attack you, it is possible that your subroutines can be infected as well. It will be vital to not only provide viral defense, but also to perform a system cleaning, which is done in the subroutine menu, as well as defragging bad memory space, and "porting" foreign subroutines.
There is a catch about the memory subroutines. When entering a new area, the memory is allocated into several blocks, so only a few routines can be used at once. In addition, subroutines can be upgraded to increase their abilities while cutting down their memory size. While an "Alpha" routine will take up three memory blocks, a "Beta" only takes up 2 and a "Gold" file only requires one. Configuring the memory system adds a feeling of depth to an already solid first person shooter.
I asked earlier if Tron 2.0 would be able to recreate the visual appeal of the cult classic movie, and my answer is a resounding "yes." Everything has that distinct neon "glow" to it, and fans of the movie will feel familiar when entering locales such as the "game grid." In addition, for a title that constantly plugs both the Pentium 4 and an nVidia graphics card, it ran unbelievably fast on my Radeon 9800-powered AMD Athlon XP 2600, even at 1024x768x32 resolution with all details turned up (almost constant 60 frames per second, about 30 any other time).
Fans of the movie will also fall in love with the soundtrack, as Monolith was able to bring back the music of original movie composer Wendy Carlos. In addition, two of the original film's actors return: Bruce Boxleitner reprising his role as Alan, and Cindy Morgan voicing Ma3a, based on Lora. Other voice actors, such as Jet, work remarkably well too.
Tron 2.0 was a long time coming. After the long wait it was well worth it for fans of the movie and first person shooters alike. If the light cycles were executed better, we would have a perfect score on our hands, but nonetheless Tron is worthy of 4 1/2 GiN Gems and I long to see a yet another sequel.
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Todd Hargosh is GiN's Product Testing Manager. He enjoys any game that gets his adrenaline pumping. Todd can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.