Retro Review | Tron 2.0 (2003)

Retro Review | Tron 2.0 (2003)

In 2003, Monolith Studios produced a video game sequel to the cult film Tron. A film licence cash in or something actually worth playing?

In 1984, director Steven Lisberger bought us Tron, a film primarily set within the confines of a computer system.

The distinct look of the film was largely attributed to its pioneering use of CGI, but truth be told, that technique only attributes for around 20 minutes of the finished film. The rest was achieved with traditional 2D animation with a few added twists.

Despite earning good reviews from the critics and making a decent return at the worldwide box office, including merchandising sales, the film was considered a financial failure.

However, Tron never really went away and the film has since gone on to become a cult film with a sequel released in 2010, Tron: Legacy. As of writing this review, there is still chatter of a third entry in the franchise.

Tron tells the story of an arcade owner Kevin Flynn, formally an employee of Encom, where he created and programmed a series of successful video games.

Flynn never saw this success himself as a sneaky fellow programmer, Ed Dillinger, stole the games and passed them off as his own. This started Dillinger’s rise within the company where he now resides as the executive vice president.

Encom is managed using a piece of software that has artificial intelligence and is known as the Master Control Program or MCP.

Flynn has been trying to hack into the MCP to retrieve the digital evidence that he was the originator of the aforementioned video games but without any luck.

Two old friends of Flynn, Alan Bradley and his girlfriend Lora Baines, offer to help him hack the MCP by giving him access to a computer terminal within the company, a direct line to the MCP.

Lora offers Flynn her own terminal where she has been working on the idea of digitizing and recreating physical objects similar to Star Trek’s transporter technology.

The MCP detects Flynn trying to hack into the system and shoots him with the teleporting laser and transfers him to the electronic world inside the computer system itself.

If you’ve never seen Tron, you can probably guess what will happen by the film’s finale.

Tron 2.0 faithfully recreates the film’s visualization of life inside a computer system.

As a cult film, Tron never really disappeared and some developers at Monolith Studios must have been fans as in 2003 they released Tron 2.0, published by Buena Vista Interactive, the early version of the Walt Disney video games business.

Monolith Studios had already had a great selection of PC games under their belt including Blood, Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, The Operative: No One Lives Forever and Aliens Versus Predator 2.

Tron 2.0 was a direct sequel to the original film set around the time of the games release in 2003. It was released for the PC, Mac and the Xbox360 which was tailored for console play.

In Tron 2.0, Alan Bradley still works at Encom which is facing a takeover by Future Control Industries or fCON who are now experimenting with the digitization process.

When an experiment goes awry, an fCON executive known as Thorne is improperly transferred to the computer world where he becomes a computer virus and starts to infect and destroy Encom’s systems from within.

Whilst Alan’s 21-year-old son Jet is talking to him on the phone, the new AI system in charge of Encom’s systems, Ma3a (pronounced Ma – Three – a), digitizes Jet and sends him into the digital realm to combat this new virus threat.

This is where the game begins. It’s worth noting that Tron 2.0 will explain and elaborate on the events of the original film which helps the two stories connect, but it is not considered cannon, this is, for all intents and purposes, an unofficial sequel.

As you play the role of Jet, not only will you try and save Encom’s computer systems, but meet many interesting new characters, familiar faces from the original film and also get a chance to ride the infamous Light Cycles.

Nearly everything you see in the original film you will encounter again in this game, but the developers have extrapolated on the film’s ideas to create more new and interesting areas all based upon the insides of a computer system.

For example, at one point you will have to visit the internet to find a compiler program who can make use of some source code you have collected. Another level will see you moving around inside an old computer which you will have to overclock to allow it to run at faster speeds.

This is the Kernel, one of the big bad guys from the story.

Tron 2.0 features an RPG element to allow you to upgrade, or in the electronic world, update yourself as the game progresses. You can update your own core abilities, such as your maximum health, any software upgrades you pick up and weapons.

Speaking of weapons, it wouldn’t be a Tron game if it didn’t include the iconic discs. This is your main weapon throughout the game and apart from a couple of specific sections, I never used anything else. There was nothing more satisfying than throwing the disc at the enemy and watching them derezz (die and disappear), but this does become harder as the game progresses with more hits required to kill.

Tron does offer the digital equivalent of a sniper scope (LOL Rifle), shotgun (Suffusion Rod) and a machine gun (Mesh Primitive) but they never felt right to me within the game. The weapons are all fully upgradeable and change forms as they become more powerful, even the iconic identity disc.

Nearly everything in Tron 2.0 is found in data bins that you can search, but they have different security levels. The relevant permissions to access these data bins can obtained by defeating enemies or trying to access obscure parts of the level.

Not all areas can be accessed in your default setting and this is why you need to upgrade yourself such as how high you can jump. Other upgrades range from various parts of body armour and even virus scanners if parts of your digital code become infected.

As a fan of Tron, I did play this game upon release but never completed it. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I have reinstalled the game and used a fan patch to enable it to run in widescreen, higher resolutions and fixed several of the original flaws, it still looks fantastic.

For a game from 2003, the 3D models are a little clunkier but due to the unique look of Tron’s digital world, everything looks spot on.

Whist the game is mostly angular with sharp lines (with a few more curves than the original film) everything also has a glow to it that mimics the film’s aesthetic perfectly. I can’t articulate how perfect the environments look. Just take a look at the screenshots included in this review.

Here you can see how the computer system has been infected by the virus.

The same can be said for the sound design which also matches its source with random hums, bleeps and even that strange electronic footstep sound as you walk or run.

Unfortunately, the music does let the game down. Whilst there is a fair amount of music to convey the games current mood, it does rely on the famous Tron rift. Listen to the opening notes of the original film’s soundtrack, Scherzo. You will hear that opening rift so many times as you play through the game, it soon loses its appeal.

Additionally, the game also has a few levels of a big bad boss that takes a long time to kill, just a bug bear of mine that is unfortunately one of the staples of video gaming.

But this is only a minor quibble in an otherwise great game which has been further enhanced by the welcome addition of talent behind the original film.

Bruce Boxleitner returns to voice Alan Bradley which really helps to sell the connection to the original film. Cindy Morgan originally played Lora in the film but as that character isn’t a part of this follow-up story, she instead voices the AI software Ma3a.

Actor Rebecca Romijn, probably most famous for the role as Mystique in the original X-Men trilogy of films, voices the character of Mercury who will assist you through a large part of the game.

As a final touch, futurist and designer Syd Mead who created much of the film’s original look designed a new light cycle for use in this game, and it’s quite a beast too.

Tron 2.0 is an entertaining game that expands on the original film ideas, even if its “unofficial”. One of the few video game film tie-ins that is actually worth your time.

Four out of Five

Tron 2.0 is a good game for the average gamer, but I think fans of the franchise will gain much more enjoyment.


John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves film, and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990s. Whilst that website became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. He's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.