Saturday, August 28, 2010


If you've seen any movies this summer, then you've likely seen at least one preview for the upcoming TRON:  Legacy.  The original TRON was released early in my life, so I can't say exactly how the visuals compared to other movies at the time.  Still, the previews for the sequel look very attractive with today's level of CG animation.

To prepare for the new movie, I rented the original a few weeks ago.  It wasn't nearly as good as I remembered it, though its problems weren't much different than any other 80s movie, Sci-Fi or otherwise.  Still, the movie has maintained a following for almost 30 years, so it did something right.

The jaunt to the past inspired me to partake in another TRON franchise, mostly to see if it gets utilized for the upcoming LegacyTRON 2.0. (Why yes, I am about to talk about a video game well after it was relevant.  How did you know?)

Continue below the fold

TRON 2.0 was a computer game from 2003.  For it to make any sense, let's recall the plot to the original TRON (And hey, if you are worried about spoilers to a 28 year old movie, you need help):

Alan Bradley and Kevin Flynn are former co-workers for ENCOM, a company that has its hands in sophisticated scientific research and video game development (seriously, who came up with that one?).  Kevin made video games, but a seedy coworker stole his programs, worked his way up to VP, then fired Kevin.  Alan, meanwhile, works on a program called TRON, designed to act as a system watchdog.  Kevin and Alan break into the company to get evidence that the VP is a lying weasel, only to have Kevin fall victim to the advanced science and get transported into the computer network, where he must get the help of TRON to take on the Master Control Program, an invention of the weasel VP that threatens to take over the entire world.  After a crazy adventure, Kevin returns to the world of the living, the MCP is defeated, and our VP gets the boot, only to be replaced by Kevin.  Happy ending high fives all around.

While Legacy will be following the adventures of Kevin's son, TRON 2.0 follows the adventures of Alan Bradley's son, Jet.  Jet is most likely a Mary Sue:  Crazy intelligent slacker who has a bad relationship with his father, he ends up working at ENCOM with his Dad, but refuses to follow in his father's footsteps.  Rather than joining his father on the "digitization" project that led to the events in TRON, Jet works as a video game programmer.  However, one day something happens to his father in the lab, and when Jet rushes to see what has happened, he, too, ends up being transported into the crazy world of the computers.

Two parallel stories unfold as you play.  Inside the computer, you will spend your time rescuing important programs such as Ma3a, running from "the Kernel," an anti-virus program, and fighting off a powerful virus that is corrupting the network.  You'll get glimpses of the world outside by finding emails scattered around the network, which tell the tale of the hostile takeover of ENCOM by Future Con, which seeks to get its hands on the digitization technology.
One aspect of that really bothers me.  At some point, you see a cutscene where fCon sends some thugs to harass Alan for the codes to make the technology work properly.  Why?  He works for them now!  It's not like they're stealing this stuff, they own it!
One of the things the game gets right is the visuals.  TRON utilized contrasting neon colors to create lush, futuristic settings, while maintaining simple aesthetics to give the illusion of being on a circuit board at times.  Transferred over to the game, this gives the opportunity to make the setting come to life without taxing the computer, as much of the setting is simply two-tone polygons of one design or another.

The gameplay utilizes an RPG-like system where the Jet "upgrades" his "version" every so often, allowing him to get more health, energy, or a few other abilities.  As you go through the game, you'll find new programs that Jet can "load" which benefit him in specific ways. You'll find armor, weapons, and various utility programs such as stealth or higher jumping.

This system is . . . okay, I guess.  You only have so many slots to load programs into.  Each program has three levels of strength, where the lowest level is the weakest and takes the most space.  This means that you'll generally have to choose which upgrades you want because you can't have them all.  It ends up being counter-intuitive, because many of the weapons will be left unused; why take up space for the "shotgun," when you can have extra armor?  It ends up feeling very restrictive and punishing, for reasons I'll get to in a bit.

The worst aspect of the game is the sense of monotony.  You'll find the same three or so enemies the entire game:  Green virus programs who act more like diseased monkeys than anything threatening, red anti-virus programs more intent on harassing you than stopping the actual virus, and purple wraiths/hackers who will make you hate the game with a passion.  None of the enemies really distinguish themselves from one another (if you see one red program, you've seen them all), so it's fairly trivial to figure out what you're confronting at any given time.  You'd think that would make for an easy game, right?

You'd be wrong.  My biggest complaint about this game is that it's brutally difficult.  The game has four difficulty levels; the moment you move past the lowest level, the enemies start hitting like trucks.  This wouldn't be terrible, except you'll frequently find yourself in wide open areas, unable to restore any health, unable to dodge the enemies' attacks, and probably outnumbered.  It often seems like changing strategies, via weapon switches, would help with this, but that doesn't work so well.

You don't have ammo for the special weapons; instead, you use an energy supply that all of the weapons draw from.  The thing is, you'll also use that energy supply to download new programs, emails, or "permissions,"  (i.e. keys) to move through the levels.  Since you can only recharge your energy every so often, this discourages the use of the special weapons.  But then let's say you find a situation where a special weapon would be useful?  If you haven't been carrying it around (and why would you?), you need to enter the menu and trade out one or your useful programs, like attack strength or armor, for the special weapon.  You use your new toy to put the hurt on your enemies, except you haven't found an upgrade for this weapon yet, so it hits like a wet noodle.  You finally beat the enemies, but now you're out of energy, down to a quarter of your health, and staring down the rest of the level yet to come.

Over all, I like the game.  It's visually appealing, and fun to play despite the occasional slow or frustratingly difficult sections.  If you never played it in the past and are planning on seeing Legacy, I would highly recommend it (assuming you can find it cheap).

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