Live Free or De-Rezz Hard...
Welcome to the second part of my holiday celebration of Tron. Hey, it may seem random, but it's kind of a special thing when such a (strangely) revered cult classic comes back in such a big way. Last time, I talked about my thoughts on the film Tron: Legacy, and despite the fact that I am a staunch endorser of seeing it, there certainly were a few things to gripe about. Part of this is due to a large amount of briefly explained plot points and devices that, to the uninitiated, can be a bit much to wrap your head around.
That's where Tron: Evolution steps in. This video game released prior to the release of the movie actually acts as a bridge between the events resulting from the first movie and the events of the second movie. Does Tron: Evolution make for a good companion piece to the film and (more importantly) make for a good game?
In the year 1989, following Kevin Flynn's discovery of the Grid and his following goal to create "the perfect system", he stumbles upon an anomaly that he deems a miracle. Out of the wastes of the vast virtual world comes beings called ISOs, essentially programs that evolved on their own and weren't written by a human User. Naturally, this new "race" emerging leads to tension with the system's basic programs and the Grid is threatening to be torn asunder by civil war. In a last ditch effort to maintain order, Flynn installs a new System Monitor named ANON (who the player controls), but the emerging of a computer virus called ABRAXAS gives System Administrator CLU a golden opportunity to declare war on ISOs and begin a purge to rid the system of abnormalities.
What follows is a fairly basic "shit gets real bad story" which has things happening around your character ANON whilst actual characters from the film do most of the heavy narrative lifting. I use that term lightly, however, because frankly the arc here is fairly by the numbers. It does fill in a lot of holes for those who still have questions following the movie, and Tron-philes will dig it, but as a driving force for the video game experience alone, it falls a bit flat.
The single player campaign in Tron: Evolution will only take you anywhere between 6 to 8 hours to finish and, despite some hidden galleries and audio files (much of which aren't truly even that interesting) to find, there's little reason to head back in after the final credits. Of course, the promise of further leveling up your program is enticing because your skills and upgrades go over to the game's multiplayer suite. In here, you'll find three game types and a handful of maps (with more on the way as DLC), and this can be a heck of a distraction. Becoming number one program on the Game Grids can lead to a lot more gameplay time out of Tron: Evolution, but all of that really depends on whether or not you like the way it plays, and this will undoubtedly be the most polarizing element of the package.
If you're a fan of modern platformers like Prince of Persia, you'll be familiar with the way Tron: Evolution plays. That isn't to say you'll LIKE how it plays because, quite honestly, Tron does some stuff poorly which makes those games so much fun to play. For one thing, your character ANON is a speedster, and when performing acrobatic moves to traverse the glowing environments at a breakneck pace, the game is a joy to watch and play. However, too often does the game seem ill designed for such things, putting in too many extremely small platforms or oddly angled vaulting points that slow the game down and force you to make extremely deliberate movements lest you plummet into a pit for the thirtieth time in a row. It never gets extremely difficult, but you'll find yourself dying cheaply more often than you'd like.
This feeling of stilted momentum plays directly into the combat. Here, you'll be using basic disc throws and melee attacks to de-rezz all manner of viruses and programs. It's a very basic combo system that only expands by utilizing disc upgrades like exploding Bomb Discs, freezing Stasis Discs, draining Corruption Discs, and bludgeoning Heavy Discs. All these sub-weapons have different effects that work effectively on different types of enemies, and the game rewards you with damage bonuses for moving seamlessly through the battle arenas while using combat moves (moving through environmental pieces is also how you'll regain health and energy). The problem, again, is that too often does it feel like the game doesn't really WANT you to keep up a momentous pace throughout combat, using swarming tactics with enemies who don't really follow any logical pattern. This too often forces you into a defensive stance that slows fights to a rather boring battle of attrition. Again, just like the platforming, when you're moving through fights as intended, it's really fun and quite impressive-feeling, but it is a hit and miss affair. Hit and miss could also describe the few Light Cycle and Light Tank sections in the game, which break up the action, but lack a certain punch or excitement.
Alleviating all this is a constant feeling of getting more powerful as your program levels up. Using your XP (or MB as it's called here), you can purchase all manner of upgrades, many of which solely play a part in the game's multiplayer. As mentioned earlier, you can take your program from single player into any of the game's three match types (where you can in turn earn MORE MB for upgrades). You'll find standard deathmatch, control point, and "kill the carrier" style games. This, quite honestly, is the most like Tron that the game feels. Facing other players with discs and Light Cycles is quite honestly a pretty fun prospect, and it delivers some genuinely fun (if not imprecise) multiplayer. With a more free-form style, the platforming and combat actually feels much more natural, and although it is easy with a low-leveled program to feel like you're being overwhelmed, spending a little time in both single-player and multiplayer will eventually build a warrior that can rival Tron himself. It won't be for everyone, but multiplayer is my personal favorite thing about Tron: Evolution.
The graphical style in Tron: Evolution follows the stylings of the movie, and that's a good thing. The color coordinated and soft-glow look of the film translates well into game form, and everything just has a very clean and slick look to it. The environments might not be the most varied, but they look good, and characters look and animate extremely well. Just watching ANON sprint is entertaining.
On the sound side, we the score ripped form the film is definitely a highlight. Only a couple of the more iconic Daft Punk tracks are included, but the rest included here fits in perfectly with the dark and tech-y tone of the game. The sound effects here are also really responsible for driving home the action going on, and everything is bolstered by a decent voice cast. Olivia Wilde does a fine job, and Bruce Boxleitner is great in a limited role, but Fred Tatisciore who voices Kevin Flynn and CLU truly steals the show. He plays a particularly goofy Flynn, and the menace he gives off as CLU rivals that of Bridges in the movie.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Tron: Evolution is a game that lacks any one stand out area. Its presentation is good, but not great. Its gameplay is competent, but other games have done this style better. Its story fills in holes, but it doesn't really excite on its own. Overall, despite the great fun that can be had if one delves deep into multiplayer, it's hard to fully recommend the game on its own merits. If you're a Tron fan, get it. If you've gotten into the universe following Tron: Legacy, it certainly is worth checking out. However, if the phrase "END OF LINE" doesn't instill any sort of reaction besides confusion in you, then this probably isn't the game for you.
I give Tron: Evolution a 3 out of 5 for a competent platformer and a love letter for fans, but one that'll probably fail to excite those not already interested in the franchise