The 1980’s are forever burned into our minds, including such spawn from the darker
side of culture as The
Power Glove, and Garbage
Pail Kids. Now, we endlessly hunt them down online in an attempt to recapture
the holy grail of our glory days. Heck, only five years ago, tracking down a Tron fix
was as difficult as ordering from Starbucks. You couldn’t find the blue guy anywhere.
Then last year, Buena Vista Games pulled an Ebay and changed the hunt for Tron gear immeasurably when they released Tron
2.0 for the PC. Suddenly, Tron stuff was much easier to find as newbies and oldies alike thirsted for more input.
now some twenty-two years after the Tron motion picture introduced
the masses to the word “com•put•er” (and
a mere year after the game first hit the PC), more input is exactly what we get
2.0: Killer App for the Xbox. This first-person shooter once again tosses
you into the Master Computer’s vector-lined domain, but this time you’ll be less
thrilled with the code.
You are Jet, video game programmer extraordinaire, and you work at a large software
company with your father just a memo away. At the outset of the game, dad is
mysteriously abducted and a virus corrupts the main computer system, Ma3a.
As an emergency measure, Ma3a blasts you with a digitizing ray that imports
you from a godly User to a lowly Program existing within Ma3a itself.
Your quest as you progress through the digitized world is to discover the details
of your father’s disappearance and destroy the source of the system’s corruption.
The Xbox campaign is pretty much identical to the PC, which is to say it’s
well-delivered and loaded with all the technical jargon you can process in Killer
App‘s highly faithful rendition of the Tron universe.
Killer App has all the elements of a traditional FPS, though
it attempts to separate itself from the pack with its plausible high-tech skin.
Despite being bright and well-animated, all of the munitions operate just like
your standard issue plasma guns, sniper rifles and beam cannons. The famous Tron disc
is here again, but the move to the Xbox controller makes handling it a little
less intuitive than the precision of the PC’s mouse. The game’s terminology is
technical, but the functionality is basic. Keys to open doors are “permission
sets to override force fields,” item boxes are “archive bins,” and you may
need to have a “permission set” to “download” those as well.
This would all be well and good and certainly appealing to the nerdy nerds at GR…if it wasn’t for the frustrating progression scheme and lame level design. Each level is broken up into small chunks with either too much or too little guidance as to where you have to go to get a permission set to progress to the next chunk.
Though this is an attempt to avoid full-blown, in your face linearity, it has
its drawbacks. You’ll find yourself running around aimlessly, digging through
all the visual noise for an item that an enemy dropped a minute ago. A load
time and some nice cut-scenes later, you’ll
be cast into the next small chunk, fully aware that there are more bottomless
pits, question marks, and load times on the horizon. In a nod to Metroid
Killer App has you waiting through a timed meter while you’re accessing a
node for textual story elements. A fairly slick cover, but since you have
to wait to download anything – archive bins, health or energy chargers – it
becomes more tedious than cool.
Killer App isn’t just about incessant fragging, though. Light
RPG elements crop up in the form of build points and subroutines. The former
is simply rewarded to you after you complete objectives, upgrading your version
number, health, and energy meters in the process. The subroutines are essentially
equippable power-ups, which do groovy things like increase jumping, decrease
footstep volume or optimize abilities. Leveling up gives you more slots for subroutines.
The whole system makes Killer App a more customizable game than
most fragfests, but since the build points are not granted through enemy kills,
it feels a little cheap. Plus, you won’t really need the fancy stuff too much
since the enemies are apparently powered by faulty Celeron processors. The bogies
simply stand in one spot and keep firing at you, a shimmy here and there, with
no interaction between each other, be they Ma3a’s anti-virus software or corrupted
In addition to the campaign, there is also a Light Cycle mode that plays like
a hairpin game of Snake, where combatants try to outmaneuver one another and
force opponents to crash into the solid wall trailing from the backend of the
bikes. It’s fun for a little while, but you’ll soon wonder why you’re playing such a basic game on your Xbox.
There are quite a few other multiplayer modes available via Xbox Live, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, multiplayer Light Cycle and Data Capture, which plays much like Unreal‘s Domination Mode in which your team tries to control three different markers at once to win. The most innovative mode is Override, which features both light cycles and on-foot fragging in one very brutal, chaotic package. It all runs smoothly enough, but frankly there are far better games to put your Xbox Live time towards before hitting the sack…or pulling an all-nighter.
Where Killer App truly stands out is in its style. Every type
of program and environment is color-coded in the classic Tron aura and
has that timeless iridescent shine. The blocky character models are firmly in
the 80’s hyper-tech style and move smooth as butter on a pimp. The computer environments
bleed creativity and yield a highly convincing atmosphere that is uniquely Tron,
though they do get tiring after a while due to the lackluster level design.
On the other hand, the voice acting could not have pulled off better. Your father
is none other than the original Tron bad ass, Bruce Boxleitner, and
Ma3a is acted out by Cindy Morgan, who played Yuri in the flick. The lesser
bots speak with a digitized distortion, which combine with the good sound effects
to further immerse you in the world.
Those who own the motion picture or a Tron poster will be pleasantly
surprised with the nostalgia built into Killer
App. Unfortunately, its style tends to outweigh its substance, leading
to a fairly bland first-person shooter set in a very interesting universe. It
breaks the routine, but that doesn’t make it a killer.