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07/06/2003: Armagetron [>> Go]

    Have you ever wished you could replay the fabulous lightcycles scene from the movie Tron? Well now you can, with Armagetron, a free, open-source lightcycles game for Windows and Linux (Mac OS X port is in the works, hopefully it will be available sometime). In Armagetron (for the non-Tron-initiated) you and your opponents drive a vehicle (a "lightcycle") around a large square arena. Your lightcycle leaves a wall ("trail") behind you as you go; your goal is to avoid running into trails (both yours and your opponents') while forcing your opponents into them (by cutting them off or boxing them in). Your cycle can only turn 90 degrees at a time, and cannot stop (though it can slow down to help make precise turns). The game generally ends when there is only one cycle left. When a cycle crashes, it destroys sections of the trail(s) it ran into (making holes for other people to now go through), and after a few seconds its trail disappears (helping to clear the arena for the remaining cycles). It's a pretty easy game to learn and fast to play; it's perfect for getting a 5-minute gaming fix in the middle of your day.

    Armagetron has both single-player (against fairly capable robots) and multiplayer (local network or Internet) modes; use single-player to get familiar with the game, then go online for some quality human-to-human combat. The main controls, which can be customized, are: turn left, turn right, slow down, and changing the viewing angle. The default camera views are generally very good, showing you your cycle and what's ahead, but sometimes you need to take a peek behind you or to the left or right to see what the other cycles are doing. You can also change the camera position (how you see the arena) from above-left (an over-the-shoulder kind of view) to a cockpit view (not very useful because you can't see very much) to an overhead view that is reminiscent of the lightcycles part of the Tron arcade game from years back. When setting up games (either for local or network play), you can control options like the number of bot players, the type of game (last-man-standing, teams, or freestyle), the size of the arena, the length of the cycle trails (setting to less than "infinite" means that the trails will follow the cycle a set distance behind, rather than cluttering up the game arena). And of course you get to customize your cycle's (and trail's) color. If you install Armagetron, you should definitely download the moviepack to make the cycles, trails, and arena look more like the movie.

    Armagetron is not the only Tron-based computer game. Armagetron's links page has links to close to a dozen free and not-free games based on the Tron movie. And you can download a demo of Tron 2.0, a tie-in to the upcoming Tron 2 movie, which has a lightcycles mode and a disc mode (basically like a first-person shooter, I believe).

    Armagetron has been very stable on my computer, and runs well on my P3/500 (with a 32MB graphics card, almost ancient by today's standards). My main complaint, if you could call it that, is that it gets old fairly quickly. All you do is drive around, avoid walls, and try to box others in. The Tron 2.0 game has addressed the replayability by adding power-ups (shields, speed boosts, etc.) and more complex maps to the basic lightcycles game; it would also be interesting to see what adding things like weapons, the ability to jump over walls, or the ability to drive through the walls of your teammates would do to the game. As it stands, Armagetron is a very well-done game, but the inherent lack of much strategy in a plain lightcycles game makes it hard to stay interested in it for long periods. But as a short diversion, it works and looks great.

©2017 Tyler Chambers