Shaun Munro reviews Tron: Identity…
While Tron fans might remain thirsty for Disney to finally bankroll an open-world RPG set within the iconic sci-fi universe – ever a slam-dunk proposition if there was one, right? – throwing the ball to acclaimed developer Mike Bithell (Thomas Was Alone, Subsurface Circular, John Wick Hex) was an appealingly left-field decision all of its own.
And though Tron: Identity – a visual novel set thousands of years after the movies – ultimately feels like a frustratingly small sliver of a much larger story, it also offers a firm foundation from which Bithell could certainly deliver future volumes of storytelling.
The game takes place inside a different iteration of The Grid, long left to evolve on its own without User/human intervention. But once an explosion occurs at The Repository – the center of this Grid’s civilisation – detective program Query is called in to investigate the incident.
Much like Bithell’s quite terrific sci-fi visual novels Subsurface Circular and Quarantine Circular, you’re thrust into the role of a futuristic inquisitor to get to the bottom of a mystery. While those games largely fixed you in place, though, Tron: Identity allows you to move around five rooms within the Repository to interrogate characters and deduce the attack’s culprit.
It’s a dead-basic gameplay loop, for sure. What passes for variety here, then, is the inclusion of a de-fragging mini-game where you’re tasked with re-assembling lost data within an interviewee’s Identity Disc – data which was lost due to the Repository explosion. This amounts to a series of straight-forward symbol-matching puzzles which don’t offer much at all in the way of challenge. That said, anyone craving a purely novelistic experience can automate up to three moves per de-frag, or even just skip the puzzles entirely.
Ultimately these puzzles are mildly intriguing the first few times they show up, yet even with added logic-based hurdles being thrown at the player later on, they mostly feel like an attempt to pad out an already extremely short game.
But as with the aforementioned Circular games, writing is king, and that’s where Tron: Identity shines brightest. Bithell has a great ear for hard-boiled sci-fi dialogue in the vein of Blade Runner, and while the overall enigma may lack the water-tight philosophical urgency of his prior works, this is still an appreciably engaging experience due to its sharply drawn world and abundance of sly, wry humour.
While you might struggle to keep a firm bead on each of the game’s characters due to the sheer breezy pace with which it all zips by, all in all the game stands as a decent example of how to use a major name IP in a totally unexpected way.
Yet it’s tough to deny that many will simply find this game too modest to its detriment. At under two hours in length, the small-scale investigation set inside a single location with just six major characters might feel like a title only scratching the surface of what a Tron game can be. And while you might lament the lack of voice acting and that even the brief bursts of action exist only as comic book-y visual panels, the quality of the writing and sheer rarity of seeing a huge sci-fi brand lent such an unexpected treatment has a charm all of its own.
And short though it is, there’s certainly decent encouragement to go back through the game to experiment with the different dialogue and story combinations. While there’s a clearly set structure, there’s also an acceptable amount of variation in how your choices shape the throughline; you can derezz characters and wipe them out of the story early, or otherwise ensure that characters whose fates seem intertwined never actually meet.
While Tron: Identity isn’t a game likely to offer more than three hours for most players – especially as you can simply skip the defrag mini-game whenever you want – there’s absolutely added value in sticking around for an extra playthrough or two. The game also comes packaged with an Endless Mode allowing never-ending play of the mini-game, though one suspects few will find it sophisticated enough to invest too much time in.
In terms of pure visual design, the various novel-esque panels are handsomely drawn and a pleasure to manipulate in pursuit of codex “hotspots” – points of interest which reveal more about the world inside the Grid. But the easy aesthetic highlight is unquestionably Dan Le Sac’s gorgeously soothing electronic score, which fits quite perfectly into the vibe established by Daft Punk in Tron: Legacy, while offering up its own memorably energetic and at times even haunting motifs.
Overall this is an unapologetically minor entry into the Tron mythos, albeit one which proves the merits of smart writing even across such a thin canvas. If Bithell Games can produce more episodes of this quality within a reasonable timeframe, they could very well have a cult success on their hands. Tron: Identity expands the world of the IP in a modest yet intriguing way, courtesy of Mike Bithell’s imaginative and evocative – if perhaps spare-to-a-fault – writing.
+ Mike Bithell’s characteristically sharp writing and world-building.
+ Stylish art accurately mirrors the Tron world we know.
+ Killer musical score.
+ Easy to try out dialogue/story variations.
– Frustratingly short length.
– Defrag mini-game feels like padding.
– Central mystery is a mixed bag.
Reviewed on PC (also available for Nintendo Switch).
A review code was provided by the publisher.