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Publisher: MacPlay    Genre: Action
Min OS X: Any Version

TRON 2.0
June 28, 2004 | Michael Yanovich

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In 1982, I was 12 years old and in gaming heaven. This was the first golden age of video games. Quarter machines were taking the U.S. by storm, arcades were springing up faster than weeds, and the nightly news was filled with gloom-and-doom reports of teenagers skipping school and using their lunch money to play games all day long.

Ah, the Good Old Days
Enter TRON, a movie that not only looked like a video game, but it was ABOUT video games, too! The film, which followed a human being after he had been digitized into a computer, was a smash hit. Outrageous visuals and heavily synthesized music broke new ground, and to this day there have been few movies with such easily identifiable signature looks like the blue glow that marked the TRON movie.

And then there was the arcade version, which was as revolutionary to games as the movie was to teen films. First of all, it was four games in one: a tank shooter, a spider shooter, a breakout-like game, and the legendary light cycle racer. Discs of Tron, which came out about a year or so later, was a disc battle arena game (apparently it was going to be part of the original game, but hardware limitations of the day couldnít handle it).

And now, 22 years later, TRON 2.0 is here for the Mac. I didnít know what to expect when I got the game, but I have to admit I had high expectations. I avoided reading any information on the game ahead of time, preferring to be surprised. And surprised I was. The last thing I expected of a Tron sequel was... a first person shooter. Thereís nothing revolutionary about this game, and while it has some unique twists itís really rather ordinary in many ways: a fun, competent shooter that will entertain you but wonít astound you.

The Gameplay Experience
First, we have the gameplay, the meat to the rest of the potatoes. Here is where the game trudges aptly along, but never really breaks into a sprint. First of all, despite all the trappings of otherness, this is just a shooter. Sure, your basic weapon is a disc instead of a pistol, grenades are replaced by balls of yellow energy (and grenade launchers are now ball launchers), the sniper rifle shoots a laser beam instead of a bullet, and the armor pickups are packaged as downloadable programs, but other than changing their looks and names, there isnít any discernible difference between this and Quake, Unreal or NOLF. That is the gameís biggest disappointment.

Itís not that Tron 2.0 is a BAD shooter, itís just that it could have been something so... different! There are a few unique elements, like you can ďupgrade your softwareĒ and increase your stats (an RPG like element that Iíve never seen incorporated into a FPS game before), but the similarities far outnumber the unique ideas in this game.

That said, I enjoyed much of the game. Except for the jump puzzles. Whenís the last time you were playing a game that had you jump from one precarious position to another and you thought to yourself, ďGee, this is fun! I canít wait for the next level where I have to jump and quicksave every step in case I fall and have to start all over again!Ē Face it, jump puzzles havenít been fun since Donkey Kong, Jr., and as far as Iím concerned they need to be outlawed. And there are several parts of the game where jumping is difficult and necessary to move on to the next level. Add a low frame count to the picture and things get even more frustrating. Frankly, I consider jump puzzles to be a hallmark of ďI canít think of what to do nextĒ level design, (the ONLY exception being the Prince of Persia franchise).

If you can ignore the platform hopping, the game is full of baddies to shoot at, puzzles to solve, baddies to shoot at, obstacles to overcome, baddies to shoot at, objects to retrieve, and light cycle races.

Oh yes, the light cycles are back, and they are infinitely cooler than they were in the first Tron game. The 3D approach to the light cycle races is beautifully done, and additions to the game include patches of track that either slow down or speed up your bike, and lots of powerups that can affect the race. And for some reason -- perhaps itís the simplified arenas -- the light cycle gameplay has great frame rates, even on my underpowered machine.

Unfortunately, theyíre unplayable online. Which brings us to:

As it has so many other times before, the ďYanovich Rule of FPS designĒ strikes again. Simply put, the rule states that designers of FPS games realize they can either focus on a killer single player experience and throw in a weak multiplayer game (because itís expected), or they can make an immersive, cooperative multiplayer game and throw in a weak single player campaign. Because itís expected. I donít know that any shooter has managed to make both the single player and multiplayer experience top notch, and Tron 2.0 sticks to the tried-and-true approach.

Multiplayer is a waste of time. Light cycle racing could be cool, but is limited to LAN play only so I wouldnít know. Tron 2.0 is one of the few mew games out now where Macs and PCs can play against each other online (woohoo!), but as the game has been out for over a year on the PC side, and the multiplayer aspects are so weak to begin with, I was never able to find more than a dozen servers to choose from. Of those, most were empty, and a handful were using new maps that are not available on the Mac side. I was able to track down the map downloads to the official Buena Vista Interactive site, but they are in PC-only .exe format, and MacPlay has informed me that there are currently no plans to bring the new maps to the Mac.

But again, it doesnít really matter. The multiplayer games I did get into were pretty worthless. You are limited to a maze where you can never come in contact with your opponents (who are trapped in their own maze which interweaves with yours). While you canít pass through the translucent walls, your discs can. So you and your opponents throw discs at each other until one of you gets fragged. Then you start over. First one to the predetermined total number of frags wins. If multiplayer has more game options than that, I was never able to get them going. Frankly, buy this game for the single player experience.


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