I’ve long considered Tron to basically be The Wizard of Oz for software nerds, as its ‘stranger in a strange land’ trope depicts a mouthwatering battle of light and dark bits that’d have the interest of most sci-fi aficionados piqued. There have been several attempts to make Tron radical again throughout the decades, and it’s only now through Mike Bithell’s lens that I’m paying attention.
As Bithell’s games have always been, Tron Identity is rather simple conceptually. Where one might expect a light-cycle Road Rash clone, Bithell delivers a visual novel rich with mystery, tension, and corporate intrigue that, above all else, delivers a tantalising glimpse into Tron’s expanded universe. Like Bithell’s John Wick Hex before this, Tron Identity is a franchise tie-in that does make sense within its established world, it’s merely a shame that despite its broad concepts and themes, the lone and basic game loop at the heart of Identity, both in terms of gameplay and theme, is middling and forgettable.
Set within its own little Grid, forgotten by its creator and not dictated by user intervention, Tron: Identity justifies its narrative existence not by leaning heavily on the film’s lore, but rather expanding upon it. Once you press through the thickets of proper nouns that make the pacy story a bit of a whirlwind to navigate, what exists is a pretty sound thriller. It’s very layered and, as with most visual novels, it has a number of endings to seek out. For a game about following one’s programming, to have any sense of agency at all, which is something often missing from these quasi-choose-your-own adventure games, feels nice.
The cast of programs you’ll encounter is certainly concentrated, with only a handful you’ll encounter at the Repository—a live-in FireCuda that serves as storage for the Grid’s most valuable data, and the scene of an expected breach which serves as the catalyst of your investigation. Regardless of any given character’s role within the network, they feel right in line with what one might expect from Tron. Bithell’s writing hits on all of the expected existential technobabble and musings, and the dilemmas you’ll face and where you place your trust and allegiances carry considerable weight.
A standard “run” of the game’s story is likely to last just a couple of hours, but if you’re the type to explore every outcome there’s enough replay value to justify the twenty-dollar price tag.
Outside of the agonising choices you’ll be forced to make, Tron: Identity’s lone hand lies in defragging other programs’ identity discs. Unfortunately, and somewhat antithetical to how cool Tron is, this isn’t as fun as it sounds on paper. They take the form of a fairly basic card-matching puzzle where the aim is to rid of as many cards as possible by pairing them with either an equal suit or value. I’d hardly consider the varying conditions the game hurls at you drip fed, as the game is so fleeting, though they don’t do a lot to make it harder either.
Making this singular gameplay beat available through superfluous endless mode outside of the story might be the single-most unappealing thing this game offers up. The player-character Query himself even begrudges the game’s hook, declaring that even he’d had enough for one night.
Though not necessarily verified for it at this point, I did enjoy this game on the Steam Deck. As you’d expect, its brevity truly suits a handheld setting and the game did perform marvellously well on it. That said, it’s likely due in part to Tron being the draw it once was, therefore Bithell’s take on the franchise screams shoestring budget throughout its presentation.
It does capture the style and essence of Tron as blue and orange hues warm the game’s world, though it is depicted effectively through seemingly breathing concept art slides.
Although it’s suggested there are more of these on the way, I can’t help but feel like a visual novel is an interesting choice for Tron. It is held tenuously together by Mike Bithell’s note-perfect script, character work, and creative vision in terms of what it achieves narratively, it’s unfortunate that it all unravels at the first sign of the arguably unnecessary gamification that continually distracts and detracts from the game’s clear strength.
Mike Bithell’s writing, as it often is, remains on point as his team establishes new colours within an already riveting sci-fi world, not by replicating what came before—as appropriate as that may have been thematically—but by taking the franchise in a bold direction. It’s a shame this thrilling plot against the archives is derezzed, and perhaps doomed to obsoletion, by a string of confoundingly dull puzzles.
A thrilling new take on the Tron franchise
Great characters and player agency on display
Does offer some replay value
If exploring permutations doesn't butter your bread, it's rather short
The singular gameplay loop is sadly dull
Might overwhelm series newcomers with proper nouns at first