If there was ever a movie franchise that should lend itself to a whole host of entertaining videogames, it's TRON. The two films are set in a digital world where everything crackles neon, feature intense disc battles and of course, contain fantastic sequences on light cycles. The latest (and probably final) movie of the pair - TRON: Legacy – also starred an outstanding Daft Punk soundtrack that could pretty much be dropped into any semi-futuristic videogame without requiring remixes or changes. Fighting, racing, bright lights, music, and if you include Space Paranoids from the original, you've got shooting, too. Every time the franchise ventures into the world of gaming, it should be a homerun, but that hasn't necessarily been the case so far. Sanzaru Games are taking a punt at the franchise this time around, with the hope being that they can better the attempts of those that came before them.
As you'd expect from the title, TRON RUN/r is a runner-style game. To categorise it in the same genre as something like Temple Run is a little cruel however, as there's a lot more going on, not to mention a couple of different game modes. In the "Disc" mode, you're running to escape the grid, avoiding obstacles, throwing your identity disc to "derez" enemies and open new pathways, leaping and gliding over gaps, wallrunning, grinding, and generally trying to survive. It's fast-action stuff that's addictive and enjoyable, with later levels requiring multiple attempts simply because there's so much going on that you'll need to learn the lines you need to take and the things you have to avoid. Creating combos is the key to obtaining high scores, with your combo continuing every time you pull off an acrobatic move or grab a pickup.
Hopping into "Whiteout" mode, you're tasked with riding the franchise's iconic lightcycle. Here, the goal is the same, only you're against the clock and there are fewer obstacles. Driving through gates extends your available time, though the orange-coloured minions of Clu (well, Clu 2) and/or the MCP (the game never seems to decide who's actually trying to stop you) who attempt to block your path and run you off the road. A quick press of the X button is enough to destroy them if you're in line, but it's tough to work out exactly when you need to press. Sometimes, you'll be lined up perfectly, press the button to attack and then watch as nothing happens. This leads to furious button-mashing, which takes the neon sheen off things somewhat and will break your stride. The same combo system is in place on the bike as is in the on-foot mode, augmented by the fact that you can perform flips and tricks when you come to a ramp in order to keep your combo flowing. The development team have decided to flush the entire lightcycle portion of the game in white, which is bizarre. Sure, the mode is called "Whiteout" here, but both movies featured lightcycle battles that took place on the Games Grid, which is basically a black arena with neon highlights. A strange decision, indeed, but not one that kills the premise entirely.
Outside of those two modes, you can play in the "Stream" configuration. This plays in the manner that people would expect when you describe a game as being an infinite runner. It's essentially the Disc mode, but with randomly-generated sections that continue on in front of you until you succumb to the challenge. A weekly stage is available that locks the configuration down so you can play it again and again until you master it and win a pretty useless badge for your efforts, but some will find extended playtime from trying to best their friend's survival times in the more traditional randomly-generated style of play.
And extended playing time will be needed here, given the way that TRON RUN/r callously uses micro-transactions. We're reviewing the Deluxe Edition of the game which at £24 provides you with the game, the season pass, a handful of extra levels, characters, and lightcycles, as well as 11,000 "Bits", which are the in-game currency. In every mode, Bits are the things that you pick up in order to keep your combo running. Complete a level, and the Bits you've collected are added to your account, so that you can spend them on power-ups for a future run. Two power-ups can be equipped for each attempt, with one type being a limited use tool that's mapped to the Y button and the other being passive. These can help you to beat the game's score targets, of which there are three on each level, awarding one, two, or three stars for your efforts. Sadly, as you progress through the game and get to the later levels, you'll start to notice that even though you've completed the level with a perfect, unbroken combo, you somehow haven't racked up enough points to get so much as one of the three stars that are on offer. To even come close to the target, you need to employ the score doubler power up, which costs 250 Bits per run. Given that you only earn the Bits you've picked up when you complete a level – fail or die and what you've collected is thrown away – and that what you've collected is generally less than you spent on power ups to play the run to begin with and you can see the problem. When you have no Bits left to spend, you pretty much can't challenge the targets on the later levels, so you become stuck.
The options you're left with are to play some rounds of the infinite runner mode, since you're rewarded with paltry amounts of Bits depending on how long you survive in that, attempt a few levels knowing that you won't have as much as a hint of a chance of beating the score targets, or - you saw this coming – purchase Bits from the Xbox Store, in bundles ranging from £4 to £15. Sure, you can play Stream mode for 10 minutes and get enough Bits together to have another go at getting all three stars on level 10 of Disc mode, say, but if you then fail at that level, you have to go back to grinding in order to have another go. Quite why there are micro-transactions included in a game that you've paid for to begin with is beyond us.
So, when it comes down to things that are actually wrong with TRON RUN/r, which is an enjoyable enough jaunt through the TRON universe for the most part, the list almost entirely consists of the handling of the product. Firstly, they delayed the Xbox One version the day before launch, offering no explanation or estimated new launch date, throwing it onto the digital store with no warning six weeks later. Secondly, the description of the Season Pass that comes with the Deluxe Edition (or which can be purchased separately) clearly suggests that if you buy it now, you immediately get the "Outlands" content pack which offers a new game theme, 16 new levels and 20 new elements for the Stream mode, only there's a slight problem in that the Outlands pack isn't actually out yet and there's no ETA on when it'll turn up. It could feasibly be months away. Thirdly, the developer has thrown in an in-game currency system that introduces a grind or pay system for you to even have a hope of finishing the main game modes. If you fall in love with Stream mode or love playing the game so much that you don't mind playing the levels over and over again then the last one won't be too much of a problem, but despite being fun from time to time and a good challenge at others, the game's overall quality isn't high enough to guarantee that.
The Daft Punk soundtrack you'd expect to find has been replaced by some absolutely dire techno dirges, too, a handful of which are so poor that they actually sound as if the game is erroring.
Despite TRON RUN/r's relatively simple running nature, there's a fair amount to like here. There's a slight control issue when riding a lightcycle that you'll need to get used to, and we're confused as to why you'd be riding in the brightest game world ever when the movies almost entirely take place at night or in dark arenas, but those things can be overlooked. What we can't get past are the money-gouging tactics that end up detracting from the experience, the botched launch, and the missing season pass content.