STAFF REVIEW of Tron 2.0: Killer App (Xbox)

Monday, December 13, 2004.
by Stacy Code

Tron 2.0:  Killer App Box art In 1982 Steven Lisberger created Tron, a movie which featured the first use of computer animation in a feature film and boasted state of the art animation techniques and visual effects. The film received mixed reactions at the box office from an audience that didn?t know quite what to make of Tron. Since the film dealt with life inside computer systems and video games, from the subjective point of view of the programs living within them, it might have been too much of a stretch for most non-technical folks to grasp ? an abstract rendering of an abstract concept. Still, the movie was gorgeous, and the disc battles and lightcycle races kicked a-ss like nothing else on the movie screen that summer ? gamer geeks and computer hobbyists rejoiced.

The look and feel of Tron was to visually strip things down ? reduce the environments, settings, and objects to basic shapes ? defined spaces with glowing borders. Stripped down to basic essentials, the environments of Tron were crude, cold, and electronic, the only warmth from glowing electronic circuitry. So when Monolith and Climax studios decided to set a first-person video game in the setting of Tron, leveraging their software technology and the rendering horsepower of the Xbox against the project, what we end up with is a game experience that looks and feels exactly like the movie.

At heart a first-person-shooter, Tron 2.0: Killer App is considered the ?true? sequel to the film, hence the title. With a storyline that resumes the narrative of the film set in ?today? just as the film was, we meet the film?s hero twenty-two years along in his career ? still working in laser technology and computers, he now has a son, Jet, who ends up being digitized into the computer system in an echo of the movie?s storyline. Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan return to contribute voicework for the game, and are joined by Rebecca Romjin-Stamos. The writing and plot are well-done, following through with the movie nicely and featuring a lot of humor that will be a lot more accessible to gamers today who will be more familiar with computers and technology than moviegoers two decades ago ? (the game has the best ?guard chatter? I?ve heard since Thief ? listening to two guards bitching about how they hate system reformats and always lose their upgrades had me laughing out loud.) Environments in the game are designed to reflect their real-world significance - PDA?s are cramped and claustrophobic, hubs and ports are busy areas with traffic, game arenas are bright and visually splashy, and system hardware and motherboard chipsets are mechanical and utilitarian. Climax has done an incredible job in translating Tron 2.0 from its PC roots ? the game was originally cursed with choppy framerates from its ambitious visual style (lots and lots of light blooms and large, spacious levels were two big culprits) but the Xbox version runs buttery-smooth and looks absolutely fantastic. Higher resolution HD modes aren?t supported beyond 480, sadly, but if this is the only compromise necessary to make the game look as good as it does, it?s a small point to quibble. The sound effects are well done and have the harsh, buzzy electronic feel of the soundwork in the original film ? footsteps ring with an electronic sounding echo, spoken voices are always masked, and weapon sound effects are brash and larger-than-life, as they should be from inside a game. The music reflects the film perfectly ? the original themes show up from time to time, and dynamic cues jack things up an extra notch during combat ? the clean, synthesizer-driven score is also supplemented with metal tracks from Breaking Benjamin, bringing the mood more in line with 2004.

The single-player experience is expansive, with many extremely large environments broken down into smaller sublevels with their own objectives, much like Halo (though Tron 2.0 still has us watching a load screen between levels, the load times are speedy enough as not to derail the experience) and is worth the price of admission just for the single-player game. Multiplayer in this game is the big bonus, with full Live support, and a decent variety of gametypes which echo mainstays like Capture the Flag and Deathmatch ? splitscreen isn?t supported, though system-link is ? and although it?s no Halo-killer I can easily see this becoming a favorite round-in-between-rounds at LAN parties. The sheer novelty of playing in lightcycle competitions that are rendered even more impressively than the movie itself will be good for a few nights on Live.

Quibbles in the game are few ? the aforementioned lack of higher-resolution modes, the absence of splitscreen multiplayer are just the raisins in the butter tart, so to speak, and the single-player experience suffers from a very awkward interface for loading equipment, weapons, and powerups that might have you scratching your head. The lack of a sticky cursor or reticule in targeting, now a mainstay in most FPS?s, makes targeting distant enemies difficult, and with the large, expansive size of the arenas within the game, sometimes you will find yourself under fire from an enemy who is represented by four or five glowing pixels on the screen, attacking you from a quarter-mile away. (Thankfully, the game does feature a sniper-rifle equivalent.) These are minor gripes, though, for what is otherwise a shooter which genuinely does stand out from the crowd with distinction ? not an easy accomplishment for a genre which is flooded with clones and has-beens. Tron 2.0: Killer App is a dollar well spent, and does with style what video games are supposed to do ? takes you to a place you?ve never been before, and lets you be something you?ve never been.

Overall: 9.6 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 9.4 / 10


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