Retro: Tron 2.0

By Jim Rossignol on January 29th, 2008 at 5:42 pm.


This piece was first published in PC Gamer UK‘s Long Play series.

Disney occasionally hit the high notes of imagination. The Tron movie was one of those: a neon-and-black vision of the innards of cyberspace, long before such concepts became bread and butter to our science fiction diet. Making what purported to be a sequel to that famed film as a videogame was a brave move, and it’s one that only just worked out for the best. Tron 2.0 is an awkward, flawed combat adventure that mixes annoying jumping puzzles with atmospheric brilliance and scenes of stark, cold beauty. Not one of the great games, perhaps, but certainly one of the memorable ones.

Tron 2.0 sees you re-entering the Tron world having been ‘digitised’ twenty years on from the original film. Once in the computer world you must work your way through what FPS players will quickly recognise as an acutely-linear, decision-free combat game, albeit it one dressed up in strange, idealised clothing. The failure to learn what was best about FPS games might have been where Tron 2.0 was undone. It quickly introduced disheartening puzzles and pace-shattering key-hunting obstacles – the kind of instant-death and repetition that we chew up shooters for delivering today.

Nevertheless it was both elements of deeper design and that superficial gloss that made me realise that cherished its existence in 2008. The Lithtech engine, which was tweaked for perfect neon-glows and weird light effects, captured the graphical essence of the Tron world effortlessly. It created a world that was crisp and beautiful, but that also contained a constant sense of non-human menace. It’s an inspiring and sometimes frustrating glimpse at what videogames are capable of: melding corporate fantasy and stylistic smarts into a detailed, expanded universe that we can delve into in our own lost hours. It’s a game that cannot age, thanks to its ability to capture and deliver a distinct, abstract style. I love it for that, like I love Darwinia or Team Fortress 2 – games we laud for their individual, insistent styles. Tron’s world is one of laser bridges crossing abyssal void chasms, of spinning fractal gates, glowy-edged neon lines and vectors. It’s all primary colours of bright information against the shocking blackness. It’s almost binary: light against nothingness, but also surreal and unreal: floating abstract tiles, buzzing teleport systems, and vast chain-flows of information pathways, like the traffic of distant cities. Few games capture a fraction of this kind of beauty.

The deeper design, however, that of upgraded, modified weapons and equipment, was also satisfying in a way that few linear shooters had managed to be at that time. Although there was really rather little there to play with, you felt a unique sense of satisfaction of have uncovered secrets and accessed better weapons: optimising them as you went along in exactly the way that sticking a scope on your AK fails to do in most FPS games. Of course the combat was unnecessarily decked out with reimagined FPS regulars – machineguns, shotguns, sniper rifles, all in glowing crystalline form – but it was the disc combat that really made things interesting. The disc was all you needed, and all I wanted. Using the weird boomerang missile against groups of enemies was violently rewarding, particularly because it was not like any other FPS weapon.

Then there’s the fact that the game is hewed in two by the most important set-piece in Tron: the light cycles. Tron 2.0 actually provides an entire single-player game based on the light-cycle combat, complete with a dozen arenas, a handful of power-ups, and a beautifully precise light-cycle engine. For a cinematic scene that has been so regularly reinvented in videogames, this was like a final statement. It’s a shame that the bots are so stupid, and that play over the net so agonisingly laggy. As a multiplayer game on a LAN, however, it’s just about perfect. Racing side-by-side along neon grids, seeing the black-and-red skies of information vaulting over head, well, it’s just about as video as a videogame can be. If we ever have anything to thank the Disney Corporation for, it’s an experience like this.

Finally, this is what is most satisfying: that Tron 2.0 takes such keen joy in tackling its subject. It’s a move licence that makes familiar terrain unfamiliar again. Too many games forget to be a genuine fantasy. They keen on referring back to the real world – trying to patch up their fiction with elements of fact, or authentic people, places and objects. There’s none of that with Tron 2.0. Here we’re in a land of pure metaphor: where the jargon we use as shorthand for glossing over the complexities of computer operations become people, places and objects themselves. “The Progress Bar” is where off-duty programs hang out, “Permissions” replace traditional FPS keys, and the over-arching idea of corrupted data and viral information-as-biology make the mythology of information-space complete.

Yeah, that’s Tron 2.0… More fun to write about than to play? Something like that.

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51 Comments »

  1. feffrey says:

    Drive C: Forever!!!!

  2. Seniath says:

    To this day (in fact, this very day in my secure computing lecture) whenever I think of firewalls, I think of the Tron 2.0 Firewall level. I really should go back and finish it again. I’ve made several attempts, but stall around the time I get on the legacy machine.

    (Edit: Ohh, editing!)

  3. Pidesco says:

    Tron 2.0 plays more or less exactly like NOLF2 (apart from the disc of course). In fact, it’s even possible to play it all stealth like and shit.

    Personally, I think NOLF1&2 and Tron 2.0 are easily among the best single player FPSes to come out in the past 10 years. Also, all the criticisms leveled at Tron in this piece apply to 99% of all shooters including the most acclaimed ones.

  4. Flint says:

    One of the games I’ve really wanted to play for ages but can’t find it/always forget getting it.

  5. Generic Individual says:

    I really liked Tron 2.0.

    The main problems you mentioned – the horrid key hunting and jumping puzzles – only really seemed an issue in the early stages of the game, where you’re all weak and crap. Once the plot gets going, and you get a few upgrades, I found it became an awesome FPS.

    It also reminds me of the good old days of crazy throw-in-everything-including-the-kitchen-sink fun-time Monolith, who I slightly prefer to the cold, ultra-minimalist Monolith we have these days.

  6. malkav11 says:

    I really liked it a lot of the time, but stalled out towards the end for reasons I don’t recall (possibly I lost my saves in one of my at the time regular hard drive crashes.) I don’t really have the will to play the whole thing over again.

  7. Bet says:

    There were very few times where my eyes weren’t in orgasmic pleasure while playing this game. And the way people talked in the game was perfect. Never happier to be a nerd playing a videogame, honestly.

  8. Optimaximal says:

    I pirated it a while back, really enjoyed it, completed it and then brushed off actually buying it for some foolish, childish reason.

    Now I have access to this strange ‘money’ stuff, can I find it anywhere? Damn you, Disney Interactive, for disappearing into the quagmire of nothingness/kiddy games.

  9. feffrey says:

    As weird as this sounds I bought tron 2 at a hardware store.
    No joke, I was there getting some wood for a project, and I saw a bin of stuff that said cheap software. I looked and it was a ton of way old software all for $3.
    Oh, it was in the lighting section.

  10. Hobbes2099 says:

    I ripped the CD’s (Cd’s tend to die in my house) and actually play it every other year. I wait for most of the story to fade away and replay it.

    I love how my hands ‘remember’ they moves as I start to remember the story. It’s like bumping into an old friend or re-reading a book you really enjoyed.

    I really like the upgrades system and how the level designers punned with the language, the levels (consuming the battery of a PDA, opening a firewall, and old 486 with 64MB of RAM, LOL) and told the story through emails, all in all an excellent experience. Highly recomended to anyone.

  11. Petrushka says:

    Tron 2.0 is one of the better FPSs I’ve played, and one of the very best looking. I can live with the key-hunting and jumping puzzles — as others have said, they’re certainly no worse than in many FPSs, including the most revered. I’m not sure if it helped or harmed that the game is well-aware of the cheesiness of jumping puzzles — personally I got a laugh out of the CLI messages that scroll past your HUD setting a “jumping” string to “fun!”

    What really let the game down for me was the choppy story-telling. The game is built around discrete levels; for the most part — the first half or so of the game — that’s just fine. The goals are logical and the links from one level to the next are well-motivated and flow on smoothly. However, past a certain point — around the time when you meet up with Alan, just before you have to fight the Kernel (?!) — the logic evaporates, and there are no more medium-term goals; it turns into isolated set-pieces which feel like separate games.

    The game’s still gorgeous, disc combat is great fun, and many of the ideas in there are pulled off wonderfully when they could have been horribly cheesy. But it’s difficult to finish, because the story kind of peters out.

    Oh, and it does the best and most fun (and most faithful) presentation of the light cycles ever.

  12. Miles says:

    I remember playing the light cycle demo from this game to DEATH. And I really liked the actual SP FPS demo too. I really must hunt this down and buy it. To eBay, perhaps.

  13. Arathain says:

    This is one of my all time favourite FPSs. Probably right after the Half-Lifes (Half Lives?). The Disc is one of the all-time great FPS weapons. I loved the clever upgrading system too, and the way everything was made to fit perfectly within the world in a satisfyingly self-consistent manner.

  14. Alex says:

    I quite enjoyed it. They did capture a lot of the feel of the original film.

    But the plot was paperthin and preposterous (also, the voiceacting for Jet, the kid you play, is some of the worst I’ve heard in years and years of playing). I’m not saying the film had a very convincing plot, but it held together a lot better than this game.

  15. Alan Au says:

    The game’s art direction is wonderful and does a good job of recreating the look of the film. The game’s only real shortcoming is the terrible light-cycle stuff, which mainly suffers from an irritating camera control scheme.

  16. Sucram says:

    Has anybody mentioned this game looked great, they have, several times? well it’s worth repeating.. again.

    Pity the protagonist insisted on dying if he fell more that 3 feet. Perhaps 3 feet is a really long distance in digital land?

  17. Gregory says:

    The game never lived up to its potential. The PDA level could have been amazing in visual and gameplay style, but instead it’s an annoying timed puzzle. There’s a cutscene showing the PC following his father through a security system; that level would have been more fun to play than most of the others. And the ending… the ending. “Oh, here’s a dumb boss that has never appeared before, and have a cliffhanger at the end of a game that will never get a sequel.”

  18. dzy says:

    i think i played this game for all of 10 mins, if.

    so very disapointed from the get go.
    i would love to see someone else have a go at it.

  19. Alex says:

    They’re making a new Tron movie.. no idea if it’s a remake or a sequel. Most probably has nothing to do with the game anyway.

  20. redrain85 says:

    Wow, never expected RPS to talk about this little gem of a game in a million years.

    A group of modders (I’m one of them) are going to release a couple of mods for Tron 2.0 soon; one of which will add some of the features from the Xbox version, and fix some issues with the game.

    So if you’ve never played the game before, then there’s never been a better time to hunt down a copy.

    http://www.moddb.com/mods/8816/killer-app

  21. Ravenger says:

    I love the game, and I’ve installed and played it on every new PC I’ve owned since it first came out. I’ve played through this game more times than any FPS since.

    The visuals are just perfect. They look just as good today, on the latest hardware, as they did when the first came out. (Actually they look better, because I can force AA and crank up the screen resolution). It’s because the art style nailed perfectly the visual style of the original film.

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned here is the music. It’s excellent! It’s a pity there never was a proper sound track CD released. The music in game is made up of little snippets of tracks, so it’s difficult to put your own CD together.

  22. The_B says:

    The people looking for this could do a lot worse than heading over to Savapoint, whereupon it can be purchased for the awesome sum of absolutely nothing, except £2.99 P&P.

    This has been a public service comment announcement. (And as for anyone thinking too good to be true, I’ve had Beyond Good and Evil from there and have no complaints whatsoever.)

  23. crithon says:

    I really did enjoy that game a lot. I just found it charming to have a level taking place inside a PDA and it wasn’t too unbelievable that it had bottomless pits with little flying drones waiting to take you out. It was a gem of a game that average gamers passed by.

  24. DusterBuster says:

    I played the SP demo on and off for years then finally got an eBay account… best money I ever spent on there and it was an amazing game. Really enjoyed it, the graphics the game play. Kinda sad I only played the demo never buying it all that time.

  25. roBurky says:

    Mmph. I bought this game from The_B’s link. But I’m really not enjoying it. I haven’t got any tolerance for linear games with no autosave.

    I had to redo the entire light cycle section several times because I died in the FPS level after it.

  26. redrain85 says:

    I haven’t got any tolerance for linear games with no autosave.

    What are you talking about . . . the game has an autosave feature. Also, you can hit the F5 key at any time to quick save, except when riding a Light Cycle.

    There’s also a patch that improves the gameplay a little, allowing you to skip Light Cycle races if they get on your nerves. But if you didn’t install it before starting then forget it. Applying the patch now would prevent you from loading older saved games.

  27. Jademz says:

    Great article Jim, this is an excellent game!

    It’s nice reading that you like it, you are breathing life into this game represents the community who enjoy Tron 2.0. It is truely fun to think about the phenomenal game, and how the fan base still explores and improves the game.

    This game was released in 2003, but today- the fan base promotes their mods, maps, client and server side applications, a large volume of fan based projects of nearly every type currently colaborate at Tron-Sector.com.

    Thanks.

  28. Simon Knight says:

    I got this when it first came out. Tron 2.0 is absolutely my favorite FPS. It’s one of the few FPSs that I have played through more then once. The only others being Half-Life 1 and 2. And all this talk about it has made me want to re-install it and give it another run though.

  29. redrain85 says:

    Our team has just released two mods for Tron 2.0, one is a new Single Player campaign and the other adds major new features to the game. Check them both out.

    http://www.moddb.com/mods/8816/killer-app

    http://www.moddb.com/mods/10655/user-error

  30. Xonic says:

    I keep coming back to Tron 2.0 because it is such an enjoyable experience, and it really brings out the geek inside me.

    Nothing like blasting some evil scripts with the almighty LOL…

    lol…

  31. MaxNormal says:

    Hey redrain85 – put your Killer App Mod back on the net please !

  32. redrain85 says:

    The Killer App Mod will return with a new version, in the near future. I can’t say when, exactly. But it will be back. With some new enhancements, to boot.

  33. DC says:

    As a big fan of the movie, and games I was looking forward to playing this, but I never got the chance. Looking at the gameplay vids it’s clear that I missed out. If I can find a copy I’ll buy it. The design is stylish/artistic. I’d say Tron 2.0 is a classic, if only for the uniqueness in level design. And YES! They are making a new Tron movie, which from what I’ve seen looks awesome. I’ve always liked Tron, and always will. It’s cult (just like Aliens), but mostly reserved for the geeky amongst us I suppose (like I am).. Tron 2.0 is great, but after TR2N comes out, I suppose another game will shortly follow. Maybe they’ll make some use of raytrace techniques this time.. Maybe not, I don’t care.. More Tron please..

  34. BungeeBoss234 says:

    Personally, this was my favorite FPS ever. I’m not a pc gaming connsseur, but it looked great, and I found the voice acting to be top notch. They even included a virtual babe for the munchkin gamers who kicked butt- what more did you need?

    Yes, the puzzles could be frustrating- that’s the point, isn’t it? Who wants it to be too easy?

    I missed, however, the metaphor they used in the film of the users being the equivalent of gods to the programs. (“My user’s going to be very upset about this!” “Figures- another religious fanatic!”). And while I liked the return of Mercury, they should have given her a bigger role after her ‘ressurection.’

    Still, these were minor issues. The emails youpicked up that informed you about your adversaries, while also updating you on life between the sequel and Tron 2.0, were seamless and fun besides.

    I hope they decide to do a 3.0. Not holding my breath, but hoping…..

  35. Brad says:

    Tron 2.0 is one of the best games – ever. I bought in in 2004 and I make sure to replay it every year or so. The game is absolutely gorgeous, and the 2003 graphics still hold up and look brilliant. The sound/music is fantastic. I’m not sure why people are complaining about “linear gameplay” – there are secrets to be had throughout the game that you can choose to seek out or just cruise by. I’ve probably played it 5 times, and I still haven’t found all of the “archive bins” (I think there are a total of 200?), and I’m still not sure if I found all of the upgrade scrubber things.

    In fact, it’s been a while – I think I’m going to play it again.

    -Brad

  36. Urael says:

    I’d like to add my voice to the list of people above proclaiming this as one of their favourite games – it’s amazing, one that I load up every now and again for a run through. There’s just nothing else like it, and it does a wonderful job of putting you smack bang into the Tron universe.

    Such a pity Monolith got distracted by FEAR. Tron 3.0 should have been out long ago!

  37. DMJ says:

    A lesson here for developers:

    Make something that looks “ultra-realistic” and we’ll laugh at it five years later as the state of the art leaves it behind.

    Make something that looks beautiful and unique and it’ll look good forever.

    Good design never ages.

  38. 0.o says:

    well *again* i will say how much i like the game
    music, art, ect.

    so i want 2 know why it seems (to me) that the whole tron thing sorta crashed and burned. it had gotten plenty of publicity but when it came out it just sorta seemed to fizzel out.

    why, i like tron =D

  39. timShallahbim says:

    Greetings Program,

    A great piece Jim.

    I’ve been an advocate of all things Tron for years and years (except that creepy tron-guy insanity). The ideas that Lisberger & Co set out to present in the original movie were way ahead of their times (agent programs etc).

    But there was a similar awkwardness to the game as there was with the movie. It borders on the esoteric (an aspect I love) which alienated a lot of people. The mythology that Lisberger and Monolith came up with for the game was astounding….it was so perfectly drawn up, with almost no logical holes anywhere.

    It was also helped by having Bruce Boxleitener and Cindy Morgan contribute their voice talents to it, giving the piece a touch of nostalgia to go with the cutting-edge modernity (‘Alan’ even wears his old-style Tron outfit when he gets pulled into the computer).

    A final note must be the score, a computer game synth score for sure…plenty modern but with enough of Wendy Carlos original themes to completely resound with the ‘older’ player ;).

    A great piece though sir, I would partly disagree with you on it’s playability…but that’s subjective to a degree. Roll on ‘Tr2n’…or simply ‘Tron’ as it’s now been called!

  40. M4rmot says:

    Tron 2.0 was a pleasant surprise when it came out (and that’s already 6 years ago!), and I absolutely agree, its art-style keeps it from aging, and its unique setting and interesting story make it a highly-replayable game. It’s been some two years since last I played it, so it would be a good time to install it again :)
    Also, I remember the level 3 (gold, heh) Claw was my absolute favourite weapon :D

  41. Dood says:

    I remeber trying the demo and discovering my PC couldn’t handle it. 5 years later, i have a much better PC and stumbled across a copy in (of all places) Ross (yes, the clothes store) for less than $5. best damn $5 ever. Only complaint is the lack of ammo at times. Light bike stuff = awesome. Wish they’d re-release that on xbox live or something.

  42. Sgt Raoul Duke says:

    I just started playing it again and regardless of what the review says, I enjoy the game a great deal. Easy to please, maybe. But just remember that there is seldom a game as enjoyable as this with such a high replay value for $5. Ebay, thanks for a cheap ass game that doesn’t require a monster PC to play.

  43. Darth Brooks says:

    Found this at Half-Price Books for 5 bucks back in 2006. Loved it the first time, and was just as good on my new computer in 2010. I wish I could slay other light-cyclers online.

  44. redrain85 says:

    Remember that mod for Tron 2.0 I talked about, once upon a time?

    It’s back! (I should know, I’m one of the people who made it!)

    http://www.moddb.com/mods/killer-app

    • Hardtarget says:

      ah excellent, I shall be reinstalling tonight, been wanting to play this again for ages.

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