TRON: Identity Review (Switch, PC, & macOS)
If you've seen any of the TRON films, you might go into TRON: Identity expecting a sci-fi action adventure of some sort. But TRON: Identity is nothing like you'd expect. Even if you've tried Disney World's new TRON light cycle run, perhaps keep it separate from the new TRON: Identity game.
That's not to say TRON: Identity is devoid of the sci-fi elements we've come to expect from TRON's Disney universe. TRON: Identity is still very much a TRON game, with its famous neon-lit universe making a return. However, developers Mike Bithell and Mike Bithell Games Limited chose to present the game in a visual novel format, relying solely on on-screen text and still images to tell its story.
Curious to know whether the strategy shift pays off? Whether TRON: Identity is as good as previous TRON games and films. Here's our TRON: Identity review to tell you what to expect.
Meat and Bones
A good game is held together by its story. By how engrossing it is to uncover more and more of it leading up to an ending you're willing to part with. When the game is marketed as a “visual novel adventure,” the stakes become extremely high to deliver a compelling narrative that you'll remember long after you've put your controller down.
In the case of TRON: Identity, the developers hold it together nicely up until the end. It kicks off with an introduction to the Tron universe. This isn’t exactly an expansive space you can freely roam about. In fact, there are probably around five locations you’ll visit within a building called the Repository. Therein, you’ll find the center of TRON: Identity’s new civilization, called the “grid”.
The grid is some sort of computer program that has evolved beyond the influence of humans. Kind of like the thought-provoking conversations we have today about what could happen if AI is left to nurture itself. In any case, a break-in occurs at the repository. Since the repository houses many valuable items and data, tensions quickly rise as to what could have been taken or by whom.
And so, a detective program called Query is summoned to investigate the break-in. There was an explosion, so some of the identity (or light) discs that help store memory are partially destroyed. You must solve puzzles to restore individual witnesses’ identity discs and uncover the events of the break-in. Or, rather, take the old fashion route and investigate the areas around the repository, searching for clues, and interrogating witnesses if need be.
At this point, TRON: Identity becomes an investigative game. It starts off with the simple task of finding out what was taken from the repository and by whom. However, the game quickly evolves into a web of conspiracies and truths about relevant social issues we experience today. Themes like systemic oppression surface, as well as how the grid’s inhabitants truly feel about the new way of life.
So that it doesn’t just feel like you’re following along on an adventure, TRON: Identity presents you with alternate choices every so often. What’s more? The choices you make actually affect how the story progresses and impact the final outcome in unimaginable ways. This makes it rather difficult to predict how the story unfolds.
And, in turn, makes it all the more engrossing to stick around and find out how the story ends. Additionally, alternate story and character developments, as well as multiple endings, add hugely to TRON: Identity’s replayability factor. You’ll find yourself wanting to do it re-do just so you can uncover alternative ways the story could have progressed.
At some points, certain choices affect the behavior of witnesses, whether they cooperate with you or even grow hostile. Some choices could lead to undesirable outcomes. And at your risk, I’ll hold off on giving any pointers to choices that may impede your investigation and cause you to trace back your steps to when things started going sideways.
All in all, “the hunt” is truly the best part about playing TRON: Identity. What starts off as a seemingly simple case about finding out the identities of the burglars and the repository’s missing item(s) quickly turns into a thrilling adventure that constantly tests your detective skills and surges up crucial themes to today’s struggles with AI and technology.
Time to Take a Breather
Most games will have multiple gameplay elements that keep you on your toes throughout your playthrough. In TRON: Identity, players solve puzzles, too, while uncovering the rest of the story. These puzzles are a way to uncover more truths by defragging the partially destroyed identity discs of other characters.
I promise it’s not nearly as technical as it sounds. Rather, the identity disc is a mini-game made up of a circle of blocks. Each block has a varying color, number, and pattern. To defrag an identity disc, you’ll need to eliminate a target number of blocks by matching either the number or pattern to another block right next to it or exactly three spaces away. Once matched, one of the block pairs disappears.
With each puzzle you solve, you unlock the lost memories of a character and uncover new truths as a result. It’s a pretty fun break from the game’s visual novel elements. Plus, if you feel the puzzles are fewer, you’re free to jump into the endless mode that exclusively features identity disc puzzles, one after the other. Otherwise, you can wait for the puzzles within the game, which increase in complexity as you progress.
On the flip side, the puzzles don’t directly advance the story. Not to mention that, besides growing in complexity, the puzzles involve the same concept at their core. Consequently, you may grow a tad bit impatient when you’re at the deep end of a scene, and here comes another identity disc puzzle that pulls you away from it. It’s walking a very thin line between tedious and fun, which, fortunately, never gets too annoying to make you want to put your head through a wall.
Dashes of Delight
With the story and puzzles nailed down, it comes down to the visuals and character art. I admit, taking in the on-screen text and static images is driving dangerously close to the edge of a cliff.
Constantly reading text at the bottom of the screen is never fun… Also, using still images, when the Tron universe is famous for its light cycles and action-oriented scenes, feels almost like digging one’s own grave.
Well, the characters do move slightly. If blinking eyes counts as moving. Plus, they don’t look too bad either. However, it’d be nice to have seen some more life breathed into the characters and universe too.
Little Taste of Happiness
As aforementioned, players can only explore around five locations, all of which are in the repository. It makes sense given that the burglary happened here, and therefore, characters close by would have better knowledge about the day’s events.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to explore around, and outside the repository. After all, Tron’s universe is such a delight that it only feels restricted when dished out in small servings.
In the same vein, the story ends rather abruptly. It’s a pretty short narrative that wraps up too quickly for my taste. Don’t get me wrong. TRON: Identity’s story is quite gripping from start to finish. It just ends a little too soon, that's all.
Perhaps it’d have been an okay thing to do when this was an episodic release, with a certain sequel to pick up the story from where TRON: Identity left off. There's, in fact, confirmation of more games to come. Whether or not these games follow the same visual novel concept or serve as a continuation remains unclear.
TRON: Identity has plenty going for it. Yet, there are a few issues that I’d love to have ironed out in the future. Still, these issues don’t come close to derailing the experience. Instead, they feel like background noise you can easily ignore and proceed with the game without rude interruptions.
For the most part, the story is to die for. It’s perfectly crafted, infused with current issues that have relevance to our society, and full of twists and turns that keep you engaged throughout. Players can influence not only the story’s progression but also the final outcome. Some choices even play out in the “wrong” way, thus creating a sense of responsibility for what comes next. I mean, what’s not to love?
The only few issues are the static images that almost feel lifeless. And perhaps this was the intended outcome for TRON: Identity, a sci-fi wasteland universe. Still, it’d be nice to see more of Tron, the light cycles, and the action sequences. That said, the good far exceeds the bad, which is exactly why TRON: Identity is worth a try.
TRON: Identity Review (Switch, PC, & macOS)
A Striking Brain Teaser Via Both Story and Puzzles
TRON: Identity is a visual novel with more than one way to progress. It’s also a brain teaser with thought-provoking topics and fun little puzzles to keep you on your toes throughout the game. Despite being a relatively short ride, TRON: Identity remains compelling enough to make you want to relive the experience, over and over again.