"The Grid. A digital frontier." The iconic opening lines to TRON: Legacy, but come on, who doesn't think of that when they hear TRON these days? Something of a stealth release, TRON RUN/r is a runner-style game akin to those that you typically find on smartphone devices. The most notable difference between those and this console release, however, is that... Well, this'll set you back $19.99, as opposed to being free-to-play. So the question is: is this entry fee to the Grid worth paying, or should the game just be derezzed?
Let's make one thing clear very early into the review: TRON RUN/r may honestly be one of the most exciting runner titles to date. Runners like Temple Run and every other clone that spawned from it can be fun distractions on smartphones, but on consoles, they're a tougher sell. TRON RUN/r takes the genre's mechanics and adds a solid amount of content to keep players engaged – and it ends up feeling like it was designed with consoles in mind. Upon jumping into the Grid, there are three gameplay types to choose from: Disc, Cycle, and Stream. You can choose if you want to play as a male or female anonymous program – the male character is the same from TRON Evolution – as well as Tron and two other "classic" characters. You can also customise which colour you want for your character, which is a nice touch.
In Disc mode, you run the Grid dodging obstacles and throwing your disc at viruses and programs coming towards you. However, while you're automatically running at all times during this, you'll also be platforming a good amount as well. This results in wall-running, hovering, and grinding on rails while hitting switches that make platforms appear in order to avoid falling to your death. It's fast-paced, frenetic, and entertaining without a doubt - especially since you can only take up to three hits before you get derezzed. There are 16 stages to tackle, each one naturally going up in difficulty, forcing you to showcase your mastery of the mechanics.
In Cycle, you're tasked with racing your way to the exit in arcade-style fashion, again, across 16 stages. Like Disc mode, obstacles will appear in front of you as you race your way through the grid, but one key difference is that you're under a strict time limit. There are gates that you can pass through to gain more time, but enemies will try to derail you from going through them. Thankfully, you can hit them back at close range, but we'd have preferred throwing a disc at them – not unlike in TRON: Evolution's cycle sections. You can even pull off tricks when jumping off ramps, but they mostly just add to your overall score. All in all, Cycle mode isn't as engaging as Disc mode, but it's still an entertaining way to break up the routine.
In both modes, before starting the mission, you can purchase variables for your run, with special and companion abilities available to utilise. For example, you can have a companion droid that sticks with you and assists in shooting enemies for as long as you don't take a hit, or you could use one that's able to automatically zap all the bits in the environment. What's more, you can also opt to equip a special ability: these can range from destroying everything on-screen to instantly to temporarily doubling your acquired bits. In order to use these, though, you'll need to purchase them with the bits themselves, which are collected during your runs. Unsurprisingly, this is where the typical microtransaction element comes into play: you can choose to purchase thousands of bits to use if you don't feel like playing a few runs and collecting them yourself. It's not forced by any means, but this is the one element that rekindles that smartphone game mentality – and that's not a great look for a console release.
Meanwhile, the last mode, Stream, is the endless runner mode. Combining both game mechanics from Disc and Cycle, you only get one try to survive as long as possible. You start out running, but then jump on the cycle at certain scenes, shifting back and forth as you progress, and unlike in the other modes, you can only equip one variable instead of two. You can also pick and choose one of the game's songs to listen to as you run, which is another nice little touch. Stream is ultimately where the game's longevity comes from, since each run is randomly generated.
As for the title's visuals, TRON RUN/r is, er, running on Unreal Engine 4, and it looks fantastic. Developer Sanzaru Games – a name that should sound familiar to Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time fans – clearly has a passion for the property, as the production values are sublime. The environments are colourful, vibrant, and nicely detailed, nailing the feel of the TRON universe. Animations are incredibly smooth, too, with your character flipping over obstacles, running on walls, sliding, hovering, and generally just looking fluid and slick. This is also thanks to the release running at 60 frames-per-second, although we did notice a few slight dips on occasion. Audio wise, the music matches the game's tone and is solid for sure, but it's nowhere near as memorable as Daft Punk's movie score or Sascha Dikiciyan's score for TRON: Evolution. Fortunately, the sound effects and announcer's voice over really help draw you in, and certainly add to the intensity.
TRON RUN/r may not make the best first impression due to its genre, a somewhat hefty price tag, and the inclusion of microtransactions, but don't be too disheartened. When it comes down to it, this may very well be one of the most intense runners ever crafted, and it proves to be a good fit for the property to boot. It may not be the TRON game that many fans were expecting, but it's still a ton of fun, and can pack a real challenge. User, enter this Grid. Review/r out.