TRON: Identity Review
There’s absolutely no question that 1982’s TRON was a cultural touchstone. It helped articulate the mystery, menace, and potential future of technology and videogames. Today, nearly everyone still recognizes memes and references to TRON in popular entertainment. As time goes on, though, TRON’s actual narrative and vocabulary might not be as well understood. TRON: Identity is steeped in the world and lore of TRON. But is it entertaining to everyone else?
TRON brings to mind speeding light cycles and neon architecture. While it nails the TRON aesthetic, TRON: Identity is a visual novel, not an action game. It plays and reads like a very well funded and artistically adept work of fan fiction. Like most fanfic, it assumes the player is familiar with the subject, its lore and setting. In other words, if you’re only passing familiar with TRON, do some research. It will help you make sense of the game.
Essentially, TRON: Identity is a noir-ish detective story about a protagonist named Query. He’s a member of the Disciples of Tron, an independent detective agency that works outside the system. Query is investigating an explosion and data breach at the Arq Repository. A massive, towering building, the Repository is part library, part prison, and full of mystery.
During the course of the two hour (or less) game, Query will have conversations with, and interrogate, a handful of characters in the Repository. In this version of the Grid, Users have been mostly absent for some time. As a result, the world is largely shaped without human interference. A new race called the Automata represents the evolution of machines. As always with TRON, the setting, characters, and narrative revolve around a shallow and thinly disguised critique of human society. Castes, pseudo-religion, and the cult of technology are its themes.
What to Do?
Writing a genuinely compelling and stylistic visual novel is no easy task. While TRON: Identity has the outline of a pretty good detective tale, and its handful of characters have clear motivations, the tone of the game’s writing doesn’t vary much. Maybe because they’re essentially mechanical, all the dialogue is pretty flat. Voice acting would really help to articulate the characters, but there is none.
As in most visual novels, players choose between dialogue options to further the branching narrative. A lot of the dialogue is expository and steeped in jargon. While the choices do matter, the stakes never feel very compelling. Ultimately, TRON: Identity tells kind of a small story and multiple playthroughs don’t reveal any massive differences.
While the Arq Respository suggests a setting full of possibilities, Query shuttles back and forth between a small number of locations, adding to the vague feeling of narrative claustrophobia. The story and dialogue are broken up by a mini game representing Query’s ability to defrag Programs’ memories. It’s sort of a variation on match three and it barely evolves. The mini games are entirely skippable, too, which tells you how important they are.
Big City, Bright Lights
TRON: Identity uses a static illustration approach to its visuals, and they absolutely nail the TRON aesthetic, with an added overlay of moody, noir-ish atmosphere. Likewise, the synth-based soundtrack by Dan le Sac pulses and whirs, and does a good job of supplying some much-needed emotional content. I will also say that TRON: Identity is a great game for a handheld system. I mean, sitting in a comfy chair and reading a novel is much better than doing so at a monitor.
The team at Bithell Games has an obvious love for their subject. This is true for writers of most fanfic. The challenge is creating an engaging narrative experience for those not on the inside, so the casual gamer can sweep away the jargon and lore, and be swept away by the story. This is where TRON: Identity struggles. TRON fans will probably enjoy spending a little bit of stylish time in their favorite fictional world. For everyone else, the claustrophobic story and lack of a high stakes payoff might be disappointing.
***PC code provided by the publisher for review***
- Visuals nail the TRON aesthetic
- Strong soundtrack
- Fan service for those hungry for a TRON game
- Small scale, low-stakes story
- No voice acting
- Bland narrative and emotionally flat dialogue
- Jargon and lore might be confusing to some