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SummaryDefrag your bad sectors before derezing the kernel!
The GoodOnce again, I start with a shocking confession: I never watched the TRON movie. What's wrong with me?! First Blade Runner, then Star Trek, and now this! Anyway, by stating that I want to emphasize that I enjoyed TRON 2.0 purely on its merits as a game, since it meant nothing to me as fan service.
I came to TRON 2.0 as a staunch admirer of Monolith, whose creativity in first-person shooter design I witnessed in Blood, the outstanding No One Lives Forever, and even Shogo. Suffice to say that TRON 2.0 has everything I would expect from a first-class Monolith product, even surpassing many of them in fine-tuning and design excellence.
The first thing I want to stress is the fact TRON 2.0 can very nearly be considered an RPG. I'm actually quite surprised why this was rarely mentioned in documentation concerning the game. It is an FPS in structure and core gameplay, but then so was System Shock 2. While perhaps less deep than that celebrated representative of hybrids, TRON 2.0 nevertheless manages to convey the addictive joy of micro-management that is crucial to RPG enjoyment.
The genius of TRON 2.0 is that it strikes a perfect balance between simple FPS action and "busy" RPG elements such as extensive looting, health and energy management, experience points, sub-routine installation, etc. This way it ensures that no moment is dull, and you can always switch between shooting and character upgrading whenever you feel like it. There is something to do and something to find at every corner; each level offers plenty of stuff to discover, and despite their relatively small size, the stages are brimming with items, secrets, optional routes, and everything to satisfy our greed for exploration and collector's instincts. The designers crafted compact, tight environments that manage to mask their linearity so well that we never notice it.
Hunting for items is one of the game's major attractions; you'll be constantly sweeping the environments for those caches of experience points or unknown sub-routines. Sub-routine management adds even more role-playing depth, compelling the player to spend quite some time in front of the character screen, trying to figure out which sub-routine to equip. There is never enough place for all of them, so choice is often crucial: do you want to know everything about your enemies, or do you prefer to keep that extra 20% damage protection? Is the ability to walk silently more important that a higher-tier weapon that is particularly effective in this situation? These are the questions you'll be asking yourself, and the more you play, the more complex and rewarding these choices become.
Even if it were a straightforward shooter, TRON 2.0 would have been fun to play. The weapons are original, including more or less regularly-feeling guns, but also the signature disc weapons, interesting melee alternatives, sniper rifles, etc. Gunplay is elegant and very satisfying, never straying too far from tried-and-true FPS basic, yet at the same time having a strong personality of its own. Enemies aren't too intelligent, but the game can still get challenging, and tactical thinking is sometimes crucial. To spice things up even more, there are some fun Nibbles-like light cycle races to take part in.
The game's main selling point are its unique environments: the inside of a computer network. Indeed, the game's visuals are among the most unusual ones you have ever encountered. Much of the scenery is positively mesmerizing, as you wander through abstract, yet awe-inspiring transparent halls with bottomless pits and cube pyramids reaching the invisible ceiling, listening to eerie "cyberpunk" music. My aversion to such style was the chief reason for my stubborn refusal to play the game; yet now I must say that the designers did wonders by crafting appealing, recognizable locations out of fully abstract material.
TRON 2.0 is, in essence, a humorous game. Humor is something I always welcome in video games, and I was glad to discover that Monolith continued to employ it liberally. The whole idea of modeling a real world, complete with characters, locations, social structures, professions, etc., inside a computer is already amusing; but when so many objects, characters and conversations parody real-life in computer-related terms, it becomes positively hilarious. I couldn't help laughing when I heard phrases like "great, now we have more free disc space" when you get "derezed" during light cycle races.
The BadThe unusual setting may require some time to get used to. It took me years to overcome my initial resentment towards abstract environments so that I could actually go and try this game out. A few times, however, I still felt I could use a break from those transparent walls and cubes piled onto each other. Also, the amount of computer jargon used in the game is truly overwhelming; the humor can only be understood by those who spend much of their time with computers (then again, who else would play such a game?..). Sometimes, the "geekiness" of the dialogues can get corny.
Also, the story is far from reaching the heights of No One Lives Forever; it is a rather basic tale with just a few twists and a rather disappointing solution to the mystery. A few promising characters are somewhat underdeveloped, and the conversations could have been injected with more personality other than being filled with technical mumbo-jumbo.