Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Enter the ENCOM Grid in the Tron 2.0 Video Game



With the recent cancellation of Tron: Uprising on Disney XD, I found myself going into intense Tron withdrawal. So, I did the only thing that I could think of to do: I went on eBay and picked up a copy of Tron 2.0, a 2003 first-person adventure game that was developed by Monolith Productions and released by Buena Vista Interactive. Tron 2.0 was the first sequel to the original Tron movie--that is, until Tron: Legacy arrived in theaters in 2010 and thus reclassified the game as non-canon. In spite of its displacement from official Tron franchise continuity, Tron 2.0 is still a fun game that both fans and video gamers in general should enjoy. Read on for my complete review and for thoughts about how Tron 2.0 stacks up against Legacy.

Tron 2.0 focuses on Jethro "Jet" Bradley (voiced by Jason Cottle), son of Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, reprising his role from Tron). It has been over 20 years since the events of Tron and Jet works with his father at ENCOM, which is in the middle of a business struggle with a rival computer company called Future Control Industries (fCon). In the game's opening scene, Alan is kidnapped by fCon thugs while talking on the phone with Jet; the kidnapping sets into motion a series of events that result in Jet being digitized into ENCOM's computer grid, where he has to find a way to free his father and discover the true motives behind fCon's hostile takeover of ENCOM.

Even though Tron: Legacy replaced Tron 2.0 as the official sequel to Tron, Legacy took many key themes and plot points from Tron 2.0. Both depict a rebellious, wayward son who enters a computer grid to free his captive father. Both include an attractive female program that aids the hero and willingly puts herself in harm's way in order to save the hero in a moment of unexpected danger. Both feature a pivotal fight scene that takes place in a digital version of a night club that is frequented by anthropomorphic computer programs, as well as a climactic battle that takes place both within and around a floating structure that looks like a giant, high-tech airship. Even the name "Tron Legacy" is mentioned in Tron 2.0, although what this name means in the game is much different than what it means in the 2010 movie sequel.


According to what I've read, Tron 2.0 under-performed in sales and was plagued with technical problems during its initial release, so I can see why Disney would want to re-launch the Tron franchise again with a different sequel in a different medium; thus, I'm not entirely surprised that Tron: Legacy is essentially a reboot of Tron 2.0. I think that Legacy features a stronger story than Tron 2.0: Legacy uses artificial intelligence as its source of conflict, which in turn allows the story to explore deeper emotional themes, such as the complex relationship between technology creator and creation and how it parallels the relationship between biological parent and offspring in strange, eerie and unpredictable ways. In contrast, the digitization beam that allows people to enter and exit the computer world is the target of corporate espionage in Tron 2.0, a plot point that shapes the game's story into a simpler good-versus-evil melodrama. Yet a less satisfying story doesn't ruin Tron 2.0 as a gaming experience; in fact, where it differs from Legacy is where Tron 2.0 keeps its entertainment value even though it is no longer Tron canon.

The computer grid created by Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) in Legacy is a stand-alone grid that has no contact with other computers or users for the purpose of Flynn's personal artificial intelligence research. Flynn deliberately designed his gird's environments so that they would imitate those found in the human world; thus, the programs Flynn's grid behave more like human beings than the user-controlled programs in the ENCOM grid in the original Tron. In contrast, Tron 2.0 takes place within the ENCOM grid and the networks connected to that grid, so the programs in Tron 2.0 behave in a manner similar to those in Tron. For as human as they look and sound, the programs' actions and beliefs conform to the commands given to them by their users, which in turn provide Jet with challenging situations and problems to resolve as he races around the computer world to save his father from fCon. (Although I know it will never happen, I'd love to see a Tron story of what happens when an ENCOM grid program is put into Flynn's grid, and/or vice versa.)


Because the digital world of Tron 2.0 is larger than that of Legacy, the game consists of many elaborate environments that are based upon actual computing: players explore the internal digital worlds of personal computers, the Internet, firewalls and so on as part of the game. Each environment is amazing to behold (so much so that I would recommend Tron 2.0 just for those alone) and the game's developers get plenty of creative mileage out of the parallel relationship between the real world and the IT world. Many of Jet's missions involve traveling to parts of the IT world that have physical representations in the real ENCOM world but because he has been digitized, none of the other human characters can actually see him anywhere. In one memorable scene, Jet enters ENCOM's electronic security system to free Alan. While Jet walks through a digital representation of ENCOM to unlock doors and watch a digital representation of Alan move through ENCOM, Jet still cannot occupy the same space as his father. There's a brief but poignant feeling of helplessness present in this moment, with Jet realizing how limited he is to help his father no matter how much technology he has at his disposal in his digitized state; he's stuck looking at ENCOM from the outside with no way to enter.

In keeping with the game's IT logic, players modify themselves as they download more data and upgrades while traveling in and around the ENCOM grid. Downloadable upgrades and messages are represented as glowing cubes within transparent data bins; each upgrade is some kind of tool you can use (body armor, a weapon, or a new ability), while the messages consist of e-mails that provide additional information about the conflict between ENCOM and fCon, the strained relationship between Jet and Alan, and the events that took place between Tron and Tron 2.0. Permission codes are also found in the data bins, which you need download to gain access to certain areas, upgrades and information.


Since this is a Tron game, game play inevitably involves light disc combat and light cycle races. You begin the game with a light disc as your primary weapon, and the upgrades give you disc modifications and alternate kinds of weapons. The light cycle races are almost identical to the races seen in the original Tron, where the cycles could only make 90 degree turns. The races in Tron 2.0 include an advanced light cycle model that was created by industrial designer Syd Mead exclusively for the game. Light Tanks and Recognizers also appear in Tron 2.0, but only as part of the background scenery. Multiplayer scenarios are offered in the game in both campaign and light cycle modes, although I didn't try either of those options.

The only complaint that I have about Tron 2.0 as a game are the moving and disappearing platforms that appear throughout the levels. I absolutely despise platform jumping from a first-person perspective, because I can never accurately gauge how near or far I need to be to the platform in order to reach it, so I usually wind up falling to my death multiple times. Thankfully, there's an ample selection of Tron 2.0 cheat codes that can be easily entered into the game that allow you to get past areas of extreme difficulty.

I highly recommend Tron 2.0 for Tron fans and anyone who is intrigued with the idea of exploring the digital landscapes of computerized worlds. Even though it's no longer part of official Tron continuity, it's still fun to play and offers interesting variations on the concepts that were originally presented in Tron back in the 80s. Check out the Tron Wiki for more information about Tron 2.0 and be sure to pick up Tron 2.0: Killer App for the Nintendo GameBoy Advance, the only other video game that takes place in Tron 2.0 continuity.

The Tron 2.0 action figures by NECA.





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