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April 16, 2010 • Gaming, Reviews

Tron 2.0 (2003, FPS): The Netbook Gamer

As a long-time techno-geek I loved the Tron movie back in the early 80’s and pumped loads of quarters into both the Tron and particularly Discs of Tron arcade game a few years later. I have watched the movie on a couple of occasions over the decades, but never owned or rented a copy until late last year. Sharing it with my kids, I found that they enjoyed it – though some of the ‘inside the computer’ references were terribly antiquated and the kids had no frame of reference to get the jokes.

More recently we’ve seen the Tron Legacy trailer, and all of this Tron goodness made me want to revisit the 2003 game from Disney’s Buena Vista Studio, Tron 2.0. After a quick search, I discovered it hadn’t been released digitally so I had to break out my disks and install it on my netbook – let’s see how it went!

The install was quick and painless without a serial number to enter, but I had to make a disk image because the game has a CD-check at start-up. I let the game default to the settings it chose, which were ‘medium’ across the board.

Tron 2.0 tells an interesting story (and somewhat reminiscent of the recent trailer) of Jet, the son of Alan Bradley who designed the original Tron system, getting digitized and sucked into the system, much like Jeff Bridges did back in the original Tron. Jet is brought into the digital world by his father’s AI Ma3a, who is bring corrupted by a virus spreading through the system. Jet needs to find and eliminate that corruption and save Ma3a and his father, and is aided by Mercury, a program sent by a Guest user.

Visually the game follows the original Tron. Everything is done inside of the computer, with bright and bold colors contrasting against flat backgrounds. While this contrast in the 1982 movie feels dated and artificial, in the game it works very effectively: the colors still stand out boldly, but it no longer feels like a digital artifice attached to a human reality.

The music is a fitting techno-filled soundtrack, and while perhaps not up to the superb level of the Wendy Carlos synthesizer masterpiece of the original film … it handles the task of immersing you in an aural sense of being one with the digital world.

The voice acting is surprisingly good. I say ‘surprisingly’ because they used many of the original films actors, and this was still fairly early in the age of ‘digital actors’. Bruce Boxlighter reprises his role from Scare crow and Mrs. King … um, no, I mean he reprises his role as Alan Bradley. Cindy Morgan (Lacy Underall from Caddyshack), who played Lara in the original, returns as Ma3a in Tron 2.0. Rebecca Romijn acts as Mercury. All of these stars – as well as Jason Cottle as Jet – do an excellent job of delivering very believable roles.

In terms of gameplay, Tron 2.0 is a first person shooter. That was an interesting design choice, as it had the possibility to turn the experience into a mindless run & gun blast-fest. And in some early video clips that is more or less what it looked like – you would run around in a Tron-like world, but would be doing Quake-like actions.

But it IS an FPS, and one using the excellent Lithtech engine and developed by Monolith – the folks who brought is the No One Lives Forever games. All of these games share a tight-feeling shooter mechanic – you can lean and snap-turn, and everything is extremely responsive. I had played the original No One Lives Forever when I got my HP2133, but need to replay both of those excellent games soon, as the shooter feel of this game just has me wanting more!

Fortunately, Tron 2.0 is as much an action-adventure game as it is a FPS … and it has enough RPG elements to make it somewhat of a hybrid in that genre as well! It maintains many FPS standards – you will certainly rack up a significant body count! It also uses ‘keys’, but they are cleverly labeled as ‘permissions’ around a token ring, which for some reason really works to translate it out of the FPS cliche it could have been.

The RPG elements come in a couple of forms. First, you get advancement points as your ‘revision level’ increases … and yes, EVERYTHING maintains the computer internal standards. Anyway, as your revision level increases you can advance certain skills.

You also acquire ‘subroutines’ on your adventure. These come in the form of offensive, defensive, or utility. There are Alpha, Beta, and Gold levels, with each level providing more functionality in a smaller memory footprint. Literally – you have a memory ring to place subroutines, and whereas an Alpha routine takes 3 blocks, a Beta requires 2 and a Gold a single block. Each area has certain subroutine configuration requirements, forcing you to choose which subroutines to load up for that area.

The concepts of viruses and contamination figure heavily into the game, and it is possible for some enemies to infect your subroutines, at which point you lose that capability and need to clean them up before using them again. The infection can also spread to other routines if you are not careful and can leave you highly vulnerable.


The pacing of the game very well in terms of keeping your busy and engaged – you meet characters and quickly become engaged with their struggles and ideas. Not everyone travels the entire path with you, and those moments are also handled with a deft emotional touch. As I said, this isn’t just an ordinary shooter, you really are part of a fully realized story with intriguing characters and villains.

In terms of the performance on the netbook, in general it was excellent. Most areas flowed smoothly, as the game is balanced to keep a fairly constant challenge level. However, there were definitely areas where I could feel the framerate struggling to keep up, particularly areas with very heavy amounts of ‘real-time glow’ applied. But I never had the game become unplayable or crash on me – and quite honestly, as a long-time laptop gamer I have endured much worse performance without batting an eyelid.

Tron 2.0 took me well over 15 hours to complete, which was about what I had noted back in 2003 when I first played. In that regard it definitely belongs to the ‘previous generation’ – games like Jedi Knight and Star Trek: Elite Force II that have long and involved stories and engaging gameplay that lasts more than a dozen hours.

RetroGamer Perspective: Tron is one of those things easily labeled as ‘nerd lore’, by which I mean that anyone in the early 80’s was conversant in the various computer protocols at work, and also spent too many hours and quarters on the arcade games. Twenty years later, many of us were still gamers, and were thrilled to see the arrival of Tron 2.0 – and now we get to relive that joy with another movie on the way. For fans of the movie, being transported into that world was something like playing Star Wars Dark Forces … it was a world you wanted to explore, and the game was made with obvious love and reverence.

Netbook Gamer Perspective:

– Digital Download / CD version? – Return to Castle Wolfenstein never got a digital release, and the CD version is out of print but fairly available on used game and trading sites.

– Installation Notes: The game is on two CDs and installs fairly quickly. There is no serial number to enter during installation.

– Disk Space Requirements: full-install takes ~1.3GB.

– CD Required to Play? Yes – you need to have the disk inserted to start a game, though removing the CD and even detaching the external drive didn’t disturb the game.

– Control Considerations? Tron 2.0 is very much a modern WASD-based shooter with every control detailed during the tutorial and also available for customization.

– Will it run on a VIA C7? It might run on low settings, but there are likely to be issues.

– Will it run with 1GB RAM? 1GB should be considered a bare minimum.

– Special Considerations for running in Windows XP / Vista / Win 7? Tron 2.0 included Windows XP in the release compatibility lists and works great on all modern operating systems.

– Compatible versions for other OS such as Linux or Mac OS? There was a Mac version of Tron 2.0 released in May of 2004 which was built for OS X on Power PC, but when I checked it out on my 2009 Unibody Macbook Pro the performance was TERRIBLE under the Rosetta emulation system on Intel hardware.

– Notes on the Digital Version: As noted, none available.

Conclusion: Tron 2.0 has become somewhat of a forgotten gem. I saw some posts about it on a gaming forum, and because it didn’t get 90+% scores on meta-review sites, folks assumed it was mediocre. That is a problem with the score inflation in recent years, but that is an entirely different topic! Suffice to say that plenty of folks came out and made it clear that while not the ultimate gaming experience, Tron 2.0 is a solid game that definitely warrants searching out and playing.

I had no expectation that the game would even WORK on the netbook. I mean, there were tech articles about the Real Time Glow effect used – this was some heavy duty stuff they were doing and pretty hardware demanding. Yet the game played – and performed extremely well with very few slow-downs. It remains a very inventive and engaging game that is worth replaying … or experiencing for the first time. We can only hope it gets a proper digital release before the movie arrives this winter!

3 Responses to " Tron 2.0 (2003, FPS): The Netbook Gamer "

  1. RT @GearDiarySite: The Netbook Gamer: Tron 2.0 (2003, FPS) http://goo.gl/fb/JWNCQ

  2. Jeremy Adams says:

    The Netbook Gamer: Tron 2.0 (2003, FPS) | Gear Diary: Twenty years later, many of us were still gamers, and were t… http://bit.ly/9Cvtpt

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