Tune In, Turn On, Boot Up.
There is nothing more depressing than the precise moment you become Old. For some, this comes with their first real job, their first credit card bill, their first back pain.
For me, it came right after we posted my Tron 2.0 preview. I got plenty of normal reader mail, a few questions about the game, a compliment or two. But then "It" arrived, a batch of evil code taking up one measly line in my Inbox, a smartass winking at the teacher:
From: <*******@mindspring.com> To: "Ben Silverman" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Your old
Hey good preview fro that Tron game but wtf is Tron anyways? Im 16 but I don't remember that movie at all. you must be old.
My eyebrow hair instantly grayed. My neck ached. My skin sagged, dotted with liver spots. My teeth fell out…wait, were those dentures? I must be old.
I receive this kind of mail periodically and usually deal with it just fine, but this one was different. It was solely my familiarity with Tron that led this kid into thinking of me as a grandpa, which hit me like a ton of Lincoln Logs. The old wooden kind, splinters and all.
But eventually, my depression turned into a sort of genteel acceptance: it's not that I'm too old, it's that these kids are too damn young. Rather than be sad about my sore knees and weakening prostate, I felt sympathy for the wee ones who didn't get a chance to see the original Tron in all its cheeseball, neon vector glory.
And now, young and old Users alike can finally wander through the data streams hand in hand, thanks to Buena Vista Interactive's Tron 2.0. A follow-up to the innovative film of 1982, this is a cool, stylish first-person shooter that puts some byte back into the genre.
The game takes place 20 years after Flynn and Alan battled the Master Control Program. You play Jet Bradley, Alan's son, who despite years of driving dad crazy with his mischievous l33t haxx0r skillz, is a decent enough employee at fCon. Sure enough, dad is still futzing with digitization programs, and as fate would have it some evil suits decide that the technology is perfect for all kinds of evil stuff . Through a freak accident and a massive moment of déjí vu, you are accidentally digitized and tossed into the fCon network, so off you go discovering the nasty truth behind the code. The story is smart and interesting and will definitely keep you playing.
The main single-player Campaign takes you through all sorts of neat locations that will sound familiar to any geek worth his pocket protector: the Firewall, the Entry Port, even into a PDA. You'll access I/O ports to communicate with important programs, receive useful help and tips from a shiny helper bee called Byte and Alan's AI pet Ma3a, fall in love with a hot program named Mercury, and of course do battle with the dreaded ICP (Intrusion Countermeasure Programs), nefarious Resource Hogs, evil Data Wraiths and the corrupted Z-Lots. In fact, the game is so heavily steeped in computer lingo and technical jargon that anyone short of an IT supervisor will have a hard time understanding half of what's going on.
But that's not really important, since the gameplay is pretty straightforward and consuming. The campaign is linear but well scripted, featuring classic first-person shooting with a few interesting twists.
Taking place inside a computer, Tron 2.0 is a world comprised of code, which includes tons of helpful programs called Subroutines. Scattered across the levels are little boxes, Tron 2.0's version of the ubiquitous crates. Assuming you have the proper permissions, you can download goodies from the boxes and then equip them as you see fit.
The Subroutines lend an interesting dynamic. Each new level gives you a different configuration of Subroutine slots, which you fill up with any Subroutines you've collected. These include higher jumping, various kinds of armor, virus protection (which comes in VERY handy at the later stages) and of course, weapons.
Though they have cool names, they're really just weird versions of the standard fare - shotgun, sniper rilfe, grenade launcher, etc. The best of the lot is the famous disc, which can bounce around corners and whose path can be altered a bit with a flick of the mouse. There are two upgraded versions of the disc: one that lets you throw multiple discs at a time and another that ups its power and adds some extra area damage. This latter upgrade is so potent that once you find it, you'll rarely unequip it.
Plus, the primitive form of the disc doesn't require any Energy, which functions as an all-purpose source of ammo. Every other weapon uses Energy, and though it's not too hard to keep refilling your meter, it's much easier to just get good with the disc and use that most of the time.
Every Subroutine, weapons included, comes in Alpha, Beta and Gold versions. The better the upgrade, the more powerful the Subroutine and the less 'space' it takes up in your inventory. So by the end of the game, you can equip a ton of Subroutines at once since most of them will be of the Beta or Gold variety.
Adding even more depth is the fact that you gain 'experience', which is converted into higher version numbers. You start off as Tron 1.0, but as you go up in level, you'll be able to tweak five performace ratings.
Taken together, the Subroutines and leveling up give Tron 2.0 a very distinct feel. While it never gets particularly mind-boggling or complex, it's fun trying to figure out which weapons you'll need for which circumstances. You'll be revisiting the Subroutine menu often.
But despite this depth, the core gameplay of Tron 2.0 is surprisingly simple and occasionally annoying. Each level often requires you to find and download permissions to access boxes that contain more permissions, then it's off to open some door somewhere. Basically, it's just looking for "keys" like in so many other games. While the mechanics are fine, the flow gets a little repetitive.
And who the hell gave the thumbs up to the platforming parts? There is nothing more irritating in a first-person shooter than trying to jump and land on things, yet every once in a while Tron 2.0 makes you do just that. You can also die from a fall of about 15 feet, which is as stupid in the digital world as it is the real one.
Speaking of stupid, you'd think that a game based on Artificial Intelligence would feature some brilliant Artificial Intelligence, but in Tron 2.0 it's way more A than I. Enemies will occasionally hide or block your disc shots, but more often than not they just stand there firing at you and weakly dodging. The boss battles are primarily pattern oriented and just require some trial-and-error.
So the fragging isn't perfect, but Tron 2.0 offers some digital variety in the form of Light Cycle Races, which occur every so often in the Campaign but can be played as a full separate Circuit mode. The camera is a little frisky and the computer's reflexes are clearly better than yours will ever be, but it's still a good deal of fun zipping around light cycle arenas, grabbing powerups and ramming the bad guys into walls. I dare you to try this using the first-person camera, by the way.
No FPS is complete without some sort of multiplayer, which Tron 2.0 serves up in the form of Disc Arenas (Light Cycle multiplayer can only be played over a LAN). It's like a fancy version of the great Discs of Tron coin-op: no weapons allowed aside from the simple disc. It's not bad, but I can see how some gamers might find it a little shallow, just as some gamers find me a little old. The lag is also a little screwy right now, but that should smooth out a bit since the game just shipped.
Whether you're running and gunning or hauling cycle, Tron 2.0 is very pretty. A proprietary glow effect provided by Nvidia gives the game that classic Tron look, and the minimalist level design really captures the atmosphere perfectly. The framerate is fast and smooth and things just feel right. When an enemy is 'derezzed' it explodes in a jumble of 1's and 0's, a nice touch.
The sound is equally impressive. NPCs speak in Devo-esque computerized voices, and talent such as Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Bruce Boxleitner (the original Alan Bradley from the movie) do a solid job. The music is just as good, capturing and updating the spirit of the original Tron score beautifully. I'm still trying to get than damn Tron theme song out of my head…where, I might add, it has been firmly lodged for about 20 years.
But even if you're not an 'old' nerd like me, Tron 2.0 uploads a serious dose of style into the FPS scene and is easily recommended to fans of the genre. The subpar AI and annoying platform segments hold it back a little, though the great delivery and lengthy, engrossing Campaign keep it ahead of the curve, so check it out. Besides, everything's going digital these days…