Bithell Games finds itself with its highest-profile project to date in Tron: Identity, a visual novel set in Disney's sci-fi universe. On paper, combining an IP as narratively rich as Tron with a studio as driven by telling stories as Bithell should be a good match. And though Tron: Identity is a masterfully told tale, even with the branching possibilities it presents, the game ends so abruptly that it puts a dampener on the experience.
Tron: Identity follows Query, a detective tasked with solving a case involving an explosion at The Repository, a massive building in the center of The Grid. Something valuable has been stolen from the Vault where the explosion occurred, and Query must investigate by speaking with those in charge of The Repository, asking questions to gain information, and solving puzzles to unlock memories stored in the series' iconic Identity Discs.
From the jump, it's clear this choose-your-own-adventure style of visual novel is right in Bithell Games' wheelhouse. The first choice you're given seems innocuous, but it will affect how some people speak with you later down the line. Some characters switch from friendly to hostile depending on what you say, while others can go in the opposite direction. There were multiple moments early on where what I thought was the right decision blew up in my face, which kept me on my toes for the rest of the game. Every choice you make holds some weight and discovering the different paths through multiple playthroughs leads to some surprising new information.
Replaying the game for all the info isn't a huge time commitment, as the full Tron: Identity story can be completed in less time than it takes to watch any of the Tron movies. My first time through the game, beginning with the title sequence and ending with the credits, took about 90 minutes. That includes solving all of the puzzles, having every possible conversation, and always choosing options that offer extra information. It's not a Tron movie so much as it's a long Disney+ episode of a nonexistent Tron series, and while it's a very strong episode with lots of twists and an intriguing cliffhanger, the run time leaves a lot to be desired.
It's not that the brevity of the game is in itself bad--shorter games are definitely welcome in the age of vast open-world sandboxes we're currently living in--it's more about wanting to explore more of this new slice of Tron lore, and also about learning more about these particular characters. Going back to the "long Disney+ episode" analogy, reaching the end of this story felt like getting to the end of an episode of one of Telltale Games's stories, but with one key difference--I knew Telltale's games were episodic, so cliffhangers before the credits weren't as jarring. I had no such knowledge going into this game, and while Bithell has announced sequels since I've finished the story, technically I still don't know if they'll be direct follow-ups of Query's adventure here. Without knowing for sure, though, this game just leaves me hanging.
The majority of that gameplay is spent in conversation with one of the handful of NPCs throughout the Repository, which offer multiple dialogue options that affect not only the actions of the plot, but the attitudes of those involved. Some runs will be a bloodbath. On that first run through, I discovered at least four of the six NPCs I encountered can be derezzed--Tron-speak for "killed"--depending on the choices I made. Make certain choices, however, and there are runs where no one will die at all. The unpredictable nature of the story, even in the second or third time through, is one of Tron: Identity's major strengths, as I never could guess what was coming in the next scene.
A few times during the game, Query is asked to perform a task involving the Identity Discs of other characters. This task is represented in puzzle form, with multiple nodes of varying colors and numbers appearing on-screen. The goal is to eliminate nodes, one by one, until a target number of nodes remains, and you do that by choosing a node and matching it--either by number or colored symbol--to another one either right next to it or exactly three spaces away, which makes the one you're not holding disappear.
These puzzles, which are fun little brain teasers, unfortunately do very little to advance the plot or my enjoyment of the game. Most of the time, they surface while I'm fully engaged in a scene, after which I'm then required to match symbols and numbers until the puzzle goes away and I can get back into the storytelling. Fortunately, the game allows you to skip any puzzle--which, in runs after the first, is a very welcome option. The game does include an Endless mode of just puzzles as well, so if I'm ever in a brain-teaser mood, I can fire this up and snuff out nodes to my heart's content.
The in-game Codex also offers lore hunters a neat treasure hunt, as small pulsing nodes appear in multiple scenes throughout the game. Activating one unlocks a Codex entry, which further expands on how Tron: Identity fits into the larger Tron lore and the role that the game's characters have within it. One of the entries is written entirely in hexadecimal numbering, just to spice things up even further.
However, there's one major issue I have with the Codex: For each of the game's NPCs, there is a chart with all of the different branches your relationship with that character can take. However, the screen only shows me the results of my most recent run. If the non-character entries of the Codex can carry over through multiple runs, why can't the branches of each character's story do the same once I've seen the corresponding scene? The completionist portion of my brain would have liked to see all of those question marks become worded entries, but alas it is not to be.
Tron: Identity is a sharply written story that offers not only a fresh look at Tron, but also an interesting visual novel/puzzle hybrid format. The pacing of the story, the agency I feel when making choices, and the immediate weight of those choices make this a fine new addition to the visual novel library--even if the puzzles routinely pull me out of the story for a moment. I just wish there were more story told here, as my initial disappointment when finishing the game came not from what I'd played, but that the game was over so quickly. Ultimately, that's the mark of a well-made game, but I hope we get to learn more about this new Tron game's identity in the near future.