Tron: Identity Transforms Disney’s Cult Franchise Into a Cerebral Noir
Inverse Score: 8/10
A light cycle speeds past me, nearly knocking me flat, then speeds off, leaving only an orange trail of solid light in its wake.
This blink-and-you-'ll-miss-it moment is one of the most action-forward scenes in the entirety of Tron: Identity. It features one of the most iconic elements of the Tron universe, light cycles, and hints at the idea of fast-paced chases. Yet it is the only time you will see a light cycle. If that sounds disappointing, don't worry — the game has something far more interesting in store.
While not exactly Disney’s most successful property, Tron still has devoted fans. The idea of a game based on the property feels like a no-brainer, considering the property takes place within a digital world. But Tron: Identity is not the game you’d probably expect from Disney. It is a small, methodical, philosophical experience developed by indie studio Bithell Games. This reserved approach eschews big-budget action and instead focuses on unraveling the core of what makes Tron interesting. While it makes Tron: Identity more of a niche endeavor, it hits the perfect mark for those already in love with this world.
Tron: Identity invites the player to take the role of Query, a program that acts as a detective for hire. The case of the evening is to interview the skeleton crew of people within the Repository on the night of a break-in. Query soon discovers the building is run more as a gated garden only accessible to a chosen few. One of the Repository vaults was bombed and something is taken from within. The current head of the Repository tasks you with interviewing everyone and finding the guilty party – or just someone to use as a scapegoat.
You don’t need to have seen the Tron movies to play Identity, but it’s likely that most players will have probably seen both films more than once. While Identity clearly knows its place within the larger lore and has a handful of winks for those in the know about the larger lore, the game is a contained story that could be picked up and enjoyed by someone with no familiarity with Tron.
Query travels between a sparse five locations within the Repository, talking with six other programs that have their secrets and agendas within the Repository. The game plays out over its two-and-a-half-hour runtime mostly as a visual novel, as Query has conversations and learns bits and pieces of what occurred on the night of the break-in. Tron: Identity has a handful of branching paths that diverge upon key decisions. The choices don’t feel too drastic in how they change the overarching narrative, but this is a case where the journey is more important than the ending, and the joy of Identity is the conversations you have along the way.
Outside of progressing dialogue, Query will sometimes be asked to defrag Identity Discs, this plays out as a card game in which cards are laid out in a ring. The goal is to clear the board by moving cards to push off others. Cards can only be moved either one or three spaces and to cards of the same number or suit. The game requires strategy and gets more interesting when new rules are introduced each time. The ability to play this game in an endless mode is welcome considering how entertaining the card game is.
Do Androids Dream
This isn’t the first time Bithell Games has adapted a major film franchise into a game. In 2019, the studio released John Wick Hex. That is in addition to the studio’s indie titles, like Subsurface Circular.
Tron: Identity is similar to John Wick Hex in that neither game is what the average person would expect a game based on a large film series to be. Yet both understand the core of the material and translate that into video games through interesting mechanics. Tron: Identity explores the high-concept implications of the Tron world that the films merely scrape against.
The Arq server upon which all of Tron: Identity’s characters live is the creation of Kevin Flynn, before his imprisonment by Clu as depicted in Tron: Legacy. The Repository was designed by Flynn to be a center for knowledge that programs could use, full of knowledge from the users.
Tron: Identity uses the language of noir to question characters in the world and get them talking. This reveals larger thematic questions at play. Everyone on the Arq is concerned with belief — or the lack thereof.
The head of the Repository, Prinz, believes the users will come back and feels that all programs should act in deference to their creators. Though realistically he uses this belief to make himself powerful, literally looking down over the rest of the Arq server from the highest office in the Repository. Even Query is part of this, as a Disciple of Tron – an order that sees themselves as impartial observers brought into difficult situations to determine truth without subjectivity.
The Repository itself is a structure that has come to represent how things like belief and knowledge can be used as tools of systemic oppression. For each character in Tron: Identity, an evening stuck within this building leads them to confront their own role in what the Repository stands for.
This surprisingly deep narrative succeeds in large part due to the incredible writing that fills every text box. It feels as carefully crafted as the programming that Flynn used to design the Arq and the Grid within, though Identity dresses it all in the stylish streaks of colorful lighting that Tron: Legacy first used. Identity also has a masterful score that evokes Daft Punk’s music for Legacy while forging a unique soundscape.
Deus Ex Machina
Tron: Identity is a wonderful — and impressive — surprise. Not because Bithell Games couldn’t be trusted to make this game good: Quite the opposite. Bithell Games has a track record of designing satisfying, cerebral experiences that can be finished in a handful of hours.
What is truly surprising about Tron: Identity is that this is the game Tron fans deserve, one that has as much reverence for the source material as the fans do. Disney is a massive corporation known for theme-park entertainment – both in their actual theme parks and in their ethos of making successful properties like the MCU and Star Wars into endless content mills. It could easily have pumped money into making a heartless but generally appealing AAA Tron game where you get to fight hordes of enemies with your Identity Disc and speed around on a light cycle – Assassin’s Creed but with a Tron skin. That would have been a much worse game.
Thank Flynn we have Tron: Identity instead.
Tron: Identity is available now for Nintendo Switch, MacOS, and PC. Inverse reviewed the game on PC.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.