Since the world of Tron was introduced in 1982 with the original movie release, the digital world of programs and users has always been ripe for further exploration. A smattering of movies, books, and video games over the years has delved into various aspects of its world with varying degrees of success, and now developer Bithell Games is adding its own original story into the electronic cityscape with the interactive visual novel Tron: Identity. The game contains a lot of what makes a visual novel good but also feels constrained by its nature as a short story and limited locales to visit. Fans of everything Tron will find an enjoyable experience for a few hours, but anyone not a fan of the IP or visual novels likely won’t find much to keep their attention.
Set in a city far away from the movies, but with the knowledge and influences of what occurred within them, the player is introduced to the dark neon world as Query, a member of the Disciples of Tron. Their only function as programs is the pursuit of truth, and as digital detectives, players will face choices and consequences that may or may not alter everything. It’s an interactive mystery with multiple endings that does a decent job of pulling players into the world of Tron, though some users will struggle with the restrictions required to change the outcome of the truncated story. Tron: Identity feels like another glimpse of what exploring the world of Tron away from Clu or either of the Flynns, father or son, would be like. It’s a tantalizing peek at a vast world filled with its own unique set of problems and societal issues.
Although it only takes a few hours to complete the first playthrough, Tron: Identity has an enjoyable and intriguing story for users to unravel. A mystery that unfolds slowly at first, but increases speed just beyond the halfway point. Being spoiler free is nigh impossible when touching on what makes the story interesting, but it does a great job immersing players in the role of a detective that struggles with the idea of making choices, and there are a lot of choices to make throughout the story.
Query doesn’t present much of a personality, so users are able to make decisions based on what they want rather than what they think Query might do. The player’s first decision actually comes very quickly once starting the story, and although it doesn’t seem very important at first glance, players will quickly realize how much each choice can affect other characters’ attitudes toward Query. This works with going through the story in the way players want – like always accepting help or refusing it to progress as a lone wolf – but makes it impossible to stray from the path after the choice has been made. There are few (if any), opportunities to change a character’s outlook towards the player after they become angry or disappointed in Query and the consequences of these decisions will undoubtedly cause players to complete the story several times to ensure they can experience the game’s multiple endings.
This lack of wiggle room after making choices may be a product of the story being as short as it is, or perhaps offering those opportunities would expand beyond the scope of what the developers could feasibly maintain. Either way, it feels like the story would have been even more intriguing had it been able to expand just a little more to include ways to shift sentiment back in some way. Only having a limited amount of main locations where the story takes place just adds to that constricting feeling as well, though Tron: Identity does a decent job of bouncing the story between each place. There aren’t really any opportunities to explore outside the confines of the narrative, as each place will just kick the player out until the story beat lands on that location again. The entire story takes place in a huge 48-story tall skyscraper, so it’s a shame there wasn’t more to investigate, but the locations the story takes place in are well adapted to the needs of the mysterious tale.
Tron: Identity’s visuals do an excellent job of pulling players into the rainy, neon-infused world that Tron is known for. Plenty of bright blue, red, and smatterings of orange and green colors dominate every scene in some way. Fans of Tron will be pleased for the most part with how good the hand-drawn art looks. However, the more they look during each subsequent playthrough, the more they will notice a definitive lack of detail in certain aspects of the art. Background walls and certain set pieces that are set within a machine universe seem almost plain when users are able to look past the bright lights. While there is some truth that a machine universe would more than likely strive for a more minimalist design, the more one looks at it, the more difficult it becomes to ignore. Being plain certainly isn’t the worst thing a game can do graphically, and perhaps most won’t even notice it unless they search for it.
Every character’s design is eye-catching and bright with what feels like a coat of digital enhancement layered over the hand-drawn art that creates a unique and pleasing look for each one. Each character has a personality that makes sense and matches their countenance almost to the point anyone can guess how they will behave just based on their looks, like the gruff and tough security guard, the calm and composed librarian, etc.
None stray from this trend, which can sometimes make them feel one-dimensional and easy to manipulate. It’s easy to argue that this is by design, though, as these characters are essentially computer programs, but with personalities that seem to grow and change over time, which is shown in various discussions, it seems like they could have had even more depth with a little more exploration than what Tron: Identity explores. Perhaps those are stories that can be told at another time, but it does take away from feeling any sort of deeper connection with the various characters.
Bithell Games’ choice to have small parts of each scene moving, such as rain falling continually while characters are motionless helps the story come alive more than static images ever could. During the more tense moments, it’s especially effective in adding a feeling of pressure and gravitas to each situation. Unfortunately, players won’t spend nearly as much time as they should in these areas. It also helps that users can move their view around slightly from the default position, though it’s for aesthetic enjoyment more than anything else.
Tron: Identity is well written and carries the story easily, but there are a few interactive dialogues that feel forced. Not necessarily bad or poorly described, but moments when it feels like the dialogue is rushing to complete the interaction between characters. Dialogue construction is difficult at the best of times, though, so when it has to be completed within a certain amount of frames it makes sense that it might feel condensed. Otherwise, character interactions are believable and descriptors are well-written and enjoyable to read.
Though optional, the one minigame players will experience is disappointing in its lack of difficulty and its repetitiveness. It involves an almost circle with small tabs of numbers and color-coded symbols set around it that the user has to match in order to clear one of the two tabs from the disc. There are modifiers that occur during the story that make clearing the puzzle more difficult, such as blockers that separate each set further apart, or randomly choosing two tabs and switching their locations, but they are rarely challenging. There are unlocks players can earn by meeting certain conditions during the mini-game, but after their first play-through, most players will likely opt to skip it.
Tron: Identity is an entertaining, but short, visual novel mystery. It uses the history and atmosphere of Tron in pleasing ways to create an interactive story that fans will enjoy the first time through. It looks pretty and reads easy, and the only other obvious stumble is with a non-challenging mini-game that players will quickly grow bored with. Despite its confined exploration, fans of the Tron universe that like visual novels will enjoy the decision-making of a story set far away from the usual digital and non-digital protagonists.
Tron: Identity is available now on PC and Switch. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.
Reviewed on PC
Tron: Identity is a new extension of the Tron franchise that lets players chart their own path as Query, a detective trying to solve a mystery. Featuring beautiful hand-drawn art and an incredible soundtrack, the game includes rich world-building and engaging puzzle-solving tasks.