What if TRON was a detective mystery? Bithell Games has the answer in TRON: Identity, out now. Our review:
It’s always refreshing to see a different take on a well-known IP, and Bithell Games has form in this regard. Take John Wick Hex. You might have expected the video game version of this puppy-loving uber-assassin to appear in a Stranglehold-style action shooter, but instead designer Mike Bithell put him in a turn-based tactics game. He’s done it again with TRON: Identity. Whereas previous TRON games have focused on the obvious action potential of light cycles and disc combat, here we’re presented with a thoughtful, slow-moving, narrative puzzle adventure.
TRON: Identity bears a similarity to Bithell Games’ Subsurface Circular in that you play a detective investigating a mystery by interrogating the folks you find. If you’re familiar with the TRON movies, you’ll know it all takes place inside a computer, where sentient programs go about their complicated lives. But there’s no need to have seen the films before playing: this is a self-contained story set on an isolated server, where the little computer people have been left to their own devices. Here, users (i.e., humans) are little more than a myth, and belief in them is akin to a religious faith.
You play Query, a member of the Disciples of Tron, which is essentially the computer equivalent of the FBI. You arrive at a data-storage building called The Repository to investigate an explosion in one of the vaults, but it quickly becomes apparent that it’s far from a simple robbery. Over the course of one night, you’ll interrogate the half a dozen or so people – sorry, programs – in the building again and again in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery. The dialogue is meticulously crafted. Asking the right questions gradually peels away the layers of a character’s backstory, uncovering hidden agendas or motivations. Here, choice is everything: certain avenues of questioning might get a character on your side but alienate another, and some actions can even end up getting programs killed.
Every now and then a character will present you with their identity disc – which essentially stores their personality – and ask you to ‘defrag’ it to restore a lost memory. This takes the form of a puzzle, where you have to remove a series of cards around the disc by matching two cards with either the same symbol or the same number, the wrinkle being that you can only match cards that are either one or three spaces away. Later on, further wrinkles are added, like cards that duplicate themselves or switch places. However, the puzzles are by far the weakest element of the game: they feel more like repetitive busywork than an exercise for your grey matter, a game of Patience awkwardly inserted into a detective thriller. Towards the end, I began to groan inwardly every time one of these ever longer and more tedious distractions turned up. The game would lose nothing if they were excised completely.
But away from the puzzles, there’s a cracking mystery to get your teeth into here, and a game where your decisions carry real weight. You can easily reach the ending after a few hours, but there are multiple endings to find, and the temptation is to go back and make other choices to see how things might play out differently. Above all, it’s a remarkable piece of world-building. By the time the credits rolled, I was surprised at how invested I had become in the lives of these little computer people.
The characters you meet can potentially die as a result of your choices: or rather, they can be ‘derezzed’, as TRON parlance has it. Sometimes you might find yourself in a deadly standoff with another character; other times, your choices could result in a character being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s possible to keep everyone alive, but it might take a few replays to work out how.