The world of Tron is filled with intrigue, opposing forces, and not-so-subtle hints at the influence humans have on the programs living within their computers. While the two films followed humans who made their way to The Grid, TRON: Identity is a visual novel that offers a look at how programs interact when there aren’t any humans around to interfere.
Tron: Identity casts players in the role of Query, a Disciple of Tron who is tasked with discovering the truth behind an explosion. The game does a solid job of casting Query into the classic role of the hard-boiled detective. Though he is significantly less hard-drinking and aggressive than the likes of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, that is certainly the vein of fiction that Bithell Games (Thomas Was Alone, Subsurface Circular, John Wick Hex) mined for inspiration, right down to the near-constant rain that falls on the dark streets of The Grid.
The developers assure us that knowledge of the Tron films isn’t necessary to follow the story of Tron: Identity, though that is only partially true in our experience. There are a lot of words thrown at the player, particularly when they mention the protagonist of the original Tron film, that might confuse anyone unfamiliar with the source material. There aren’t many of the iconic light cycles, but the mixture of computer jargon in everyday conversation can be overwhelming. As is often the case with games set in a wider universe, you’ll get more enjoyment from the story if you’ve got at least a passing familiarity with Tron and Tron: Legacy.
The story here is a short one. It took us around 10 hours to get through a single playthrough of Tron: Legacy, though we would argue that is very much to the game’s credit. There are several points where the narrative branches due to Query’s actions. Certain characters might grow distant from him. Others will grow to trust him more. Some could even be removed from the story before they ever get the chance to make an impact. There are multiple endings available, so you have the chance to replay and make different decisions each time to see where the narrative takes them.
The visuals are mostly static images of the world and characters with subtle, small animations. Simple as they feel, they are detailed and make great use of the light and dark tones that dominated the films and are perfectly in keeping with the detective noir plot the developers have given us. The characters are expressive, switching from passive to serene to angry with very little action. Some of the sweeping shots of a shattered vault wouldn't be out of place as a print on a Tron fan's wall.
When you’re not investigating the cause of a mysterious explosion in the Repository, you will get to unlock the memories of your fellow programs by defragging their Identity Discs. This is done with a relatively quick minigame of sliding matching numbers and symbols around a circular grid. The rules of this game feel oddly arbitrary, despite the tutorial at the beginning. We found it to be confusing which pieces we were able to move at any given moment, resulting in a lot of guesswork to get to the end of the puzzle. In fact, once we stopped thinking about our next moves so much, we, oddly enough, did much better at this part of the game.
These puzzles fit in with the overall aesthetic of Tron: Identity, though they feel decidedly low stakes. There isn’t a time limit to them, and you can get the AI to perform moves for you when you get stuck. Aside from unlocking new colours for your Identity Disk upon completing optional objectives, there isn’t much of a benefit to getting good at the defrag portions. They don’t exactly feel tacked on, but they were the part of the game that we found least enjoyable.
It’s the story that carries Tron: Identity. The characters all feel like they’re hiding something just beneath the surface and react to Query’s line of questioning in a believable way. Though his order is sworn to only pursue the truth and not interfere in the lives of the programs around them, Query finds himself pulled out of this centrist position and making life-and-death decisions. It is fun to see how detective noir tropes fit into the cyber-futuristic world of Tron. While there are a few wrinkles, such as an ending that feels more like the start of a story than the end of one, it is overall an effective, enjoyable tale.
Players looking for a conclusive story might find themselves wanting more, but that doesn’t mean they will be disappointed. Like the best crime stories, this visual novel refuses to overstay its welcome. Instead, it tells you just enough and allows just enough freedom to warrant multiple playthroughs. Opening up the Codex shows you just how many alternate branches you can take with each character, making for a fascinating game of 'what if?' that entices you to dive in for at least a second attempt at unravelling the mystery.
In all, Tron: Identity feels like a very niche game targeting visual novel fans who love the original film, but if you happen to fall in the middle of those overlapping circles, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. The branching narratives will probably keep you busy through at least two playthroughs while the subtle music makes this a relaxing yet atmospheric read. You won’t find yourself challenged by the puzzle aspects but the overall experience is worth picking up — doubly so for Tron fans like us.
Tron: Identity won’t wow anyone with its puzzles, but it does a great job of telling a tight story that changes with each playthrough. The short playtime encourages you to explore the world a bit more and uncover new truths that you missed because of your previous actions. If this is the start of a series of Tron visual novels, which the plot certainly feels like, then we’re hopeful we get to continue our journey with Query very soon.
I do love the Tron universe.
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"It took us around 10 hours to get through a single playthrough of Tron: Legacy" 10 hours? Other sites are saying 2-3 hours.
I love TRON, but I'm not the biggest visual novel guy. It may be worth a shot though.
When will we get a remake of TRON Deadly Discs? I want to play a modern version of that game.
@Serpenterror Even a compilation release of all of the classic TRON games would be great!
Ah cool. My kinda thang then. Cheers for the review
@Serpenterror I LOVE that game! I used to play that all the time on Intellivision! I still have it too in working condition after all these years… but wouldn’t it be awesome to have that on switch?!
Tron! How could you?
The best thing about Tron is Daft Punk's excellent soundtrack for the second film.
@Electric-Dreams This is true, but the cartoon Tron: Uprising is a close second. Also has an excellent soundtrack.
@BrianJL I'm in the same boat. Not big on VNs, but I might get this to encourage Disney to do more Tron stuff.
Probably more effective than my other plan to stand outside Bob Iger's house shouting, "Let Jared Leto make Tron 3 you cowards!"
I run a weekly Retro Video Game Poll on Reddit. For the Atari Era (roughly games published 1984 or earlier), 2 Tron games made the top 50:
#18 Tron (the 1982 arcade game)
#35 Discs of Tron (a 1983 arcade game)
Both of those games were developed by Bally Midway. Wikipedia says when that company ceased to be, their game rights were bought by what is now "Warner Bros. Games".
2 other Bally Midway games that made my polls are 1983's Spy Hunter and 1986's Rampage.
I'm not terribly interested in visual novels, and I only have a passing interest in Tron (I grew up with both, but I have a lot more fuzzy memories of the arcade game than the movie(s)), but I do love the Bithell Games I've played so far so it's pretty tempting.
Not for me at the moment since I've never seen any Tron film, but if I ever do and enjoy them I'll get this game then!
I tried this game based on the review. I wish I hadn't. One word, boring! I guess the visual novel format is not for me....
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