Ah, TRON. We'd imagine pretty much any child of the 80s can remember Disney's TRON and those pioneering visuals effects, that bizarre electro soundtrack and, of course, the light cycles. Upon hearing news that Disney was planning a new game based in the TRON universe, we got a little bit excited and probably jiggled a bit. We won't tell you what we did when we saw the screenshots.
We've been hankering for a go on TRON 2.0 for a while now, and when a demo was at last released, we snapped it up and had a good poke around inside. The demo features two multiplayer modes from the forthcoming Monolith-developed title; Disc Arena is reminiscent of the Quake Rocket Arena mod or, perhaps more accurately, the plates-as-weapons Ricochet add-on for Half-Life. The other mode is light cycle competitions, and more on those later.
Disc Arena is incredibly easy to pick up. The game is based around small team-based duels of one or two players a side. Players face each other in a small arena comprising coloured sections of small platforms with a large gap separating the two halves of the room. A countdown kicks off the duel, and the contestants then need to either "de-rez" the competition by striking them with their throwing disc, which returns boomerang-style to your hands when you call it back or when it strikes an object. The other method of elimination is by striking the platforms themselves from any angle, causing them to disintegrate and the player to fall through the gaps into oblivion.
Success often feels quite random due to the lack of control you have over your disc, and is usually reliant on the other player(s) stumbling through a gap you created with your disc before the platforms re-materialise. Contrasted against the fast-paced power-up ridden action of Ricochet, Disc Arena feels slightly whimsical.
May the best program win
What we really came here for, however, was the light cycles. The videogame adaptation of this part of the original movie has been attempted before, most notably and successfully in the public domain with games like Armagetron and glTron, and we were hoping the Monolith were going to be able to pull it off with enough style and accuracy to eclipse those efforts, especially with an official license behind it.
The idea of light cycles is not that of traditional racing, and has more in common with Snake than anything. A group of players start in various places around the map, sat astride sleek-looking vehicles, which begin streaking across the ground at some frightening speeds. The cycles leave a trail behind them as they move which forms a solid wall for other players to crash into, and the action tends to hot up when the head-to-head confrontations occur at breakneck speeds, and players attempt to outsmart each other by performing sharp turns and attempting to get the others crashing into their trail, while avoiding their own and the other players'. The winner of each round is the last man standing... riding... whatever.
After a while playing offline with some of the bots, we were quite pleased with the results. It certainly moved fast enough and got us panicking and our pulses racing at all the right moments, but does it pull it off this well online? Well, not to the same extent at all, sadly. Despite the warning that light cycles are available for LAN play only, this isn't strictly true and we were able to join a server quite easily via the in-game browser. However, lag isn't at all kind to the fast-paced nature of the game and even with a ping hovering around the 80 mark there were noticeable glitches such as disappearing player models and cycles going through their own trails due to the game's apparent inability to transmit their position to the other players fast enough. So yes, it's probably safest to stick to LAN or offline play.
The initial signs are promising. Monolith has certainly done a stellar job of getting the game to both look and feel the part, and you get the impression that it could almost have remade the movie within the engine such is the success with which the team has faithfully reconstructed the film's unique and unusual aesthetic.
Hopefully the showing of a single player demo will imbue us with the complete confidence that come August, TRON 2.0 will grant the license the faithful and absorbing conversion it deserves.