When the test footage of "TRON: Legacy" first appeared without warning at San Diego Comic-Con in 2008, fans around the globe went wild. As time passed and the marketing blitz for the movie ramped up, the inevitable video game was announced. Given the past success of TRON titles and the simple fact that the franchise is based on people literally finding themselves sucked into a video game, it was difficult to imagine TRON: Evolution ending up as anything other than a massive success. Unfortunately, Disney and Propaganda managed to defy expectations with this one and not in a good way.
Set roughly halfway between the original film and the new movie, TRON: Evolution attempts to fill in some of the backstory behind Kevin Flynn's capture, Clu's betrayal and the loss of freedom in the Grid. Against the backdrop of war, the story is focused on a security program named Anon who is fighting to prevent a virus of unknown origin from destroying the entire system. While the setup has potential, it is the execution of the program that fails to deliver.
Gameplay breaks down into three basic components: parkour-style running, disc combat and vehicle segments. As individual tech demos, each is interesting, but when strung together over the course of 6-8 hours, the game ends up feeling like a paint-by-numbers ploy. Level design is nothing more than running through a parkour section, get trapped in a room to fight off a few waves of enemies with a disc, do another parkour section, get stuck in a room again, wash, rinse and repeat. It's almost as if the level designer got stuck in a mental GOTO loop and lost all creativity.
Watching the parkour sections play out on video is an impressive treat, but playing through them in person is less so. The developers at Propaganda may have been going for an Assassin's Creed style of play, but they forget to include any sort of auto-correct while jumping. What does this mean for you as a player? Expect to fall to your death over and over again.
All jumps in the game have to be precisely timed. Take off a split second too early, and your wall run won't last long enough, resulting in a missed jump down the line. Overshoot an overhang by five degrees? Sorry, you're getting derezzed. This sort of punishing control scheme might have been expected on the game's hardest difficulty level, but playing through on normal, you expect to fight the bad guys, not the control scheme. Simply giving the player a bit of invisible assistance or even a slightly longer wall run time would have helped immensely.
Adding to the problems is a camera that can best be described as random. To be fair, it works most of the time. But then, right when you come up against an annoying jump that has to be made from the edge of a ledge, it decides to get a mind of its own. Line up the camera, start running and just as you approach the edge for the jump, the camera decides to move, forcing you to guess at the exact takeoff point.
Similar issues happen during disc combat when you get near a wall. You can be fighting against a group, whaling back and forth in all your button-mashing glory, when the camera suddenly decides to go nuts and loses track of your character as it flips around wildly. It's moments like these that make Jason Mewes' profanity-laced rants as Jay from "Jay and Silent Bob" seem like reasoned discussion.
Instead of feeling like an über-athletic super program, the persnickety controls end up making you feel like the main character has two left feet. Not a good sign.
The control issues also extend to actual combat. Though it is possible to employ strategy with the disc combat, there is no real need for it in-game. When surrounded by enemies, the best course of action is to alternate between button-mashing and running in circles around the room, constantly recharging health and energy for your super moves. There is a targeting reticle that appears when you are fighting, but there seems to be no way to lock on to a certain enemy. You can have an enemy in your sights, and then just before firing, the reticle decides to jump to another nearby target for no discernable reason.
It's a bit disappointing, especially after how great the disc combat felt in Disney's last TRON title, TRON 2.0.
Given all this, surely the vehicle sections would be a saving grace, no? No. The in-game lightcycle sections are more or less straight-line speed affairs that require you to dodge random obstacles. That's it. Keep the accelerator floored, and you'll never even notice the AI-controlled cycles chasing you. Jumping into the light tank is an easy way to rack up kills and experience, but it's far from challenging. Because the tank moves so slowly, the AI can't be very aggressive. The net result is a plodding section in what is otherwise a fairly fast game. It can be summed up as drive, park, shoot, recharge health, move on to the next point and repeat.
Visually, TRON: Evolution does an excellent job of recreating the imagery of the Grid exactly as shown in "TRON: Legacy." Play through the game, and when you watch the film, you are going to be able to pick out the exact sections that were lifted for the game. However, a solid visual polish can only get you so far when the underlying gameplay is rough and uninspired.
TRON: Evolution's one fleeting moment of glory is in multiplayer, where it seems to do a few things right. Sadly, it's a case of too little, given the limited maps and the balance issues.
For one thing, TRON: Evolution ships with four maps on disc. Yes, four. New purchasers get a one-time use code for two additional maps in the game box, but if you're buying the game used, that's it. Of those four maps, only two can use the lightcycles. Take a wild guess at which two maps are the most popular when heading online. Going at it with other players in lightcycle combat is a thrilling rush, but with only two maps in effective rotation, there's not much variety. Rather than feeling like a full-on multiplayer mode, it feels like a multiplayer demo.
Disc combat in multiplayer is just as much button-mashing as the single-player, but here, your advantage is determined by how long you have been playing. Character experience and available upgrades are measured on one track between multiplayer and single-player, so those with all the available upgrades unlocked will have an advantage over those who are just starting out. It can end up making a match feel unbalanced when on foot, as you only need to have a slight health advantage to win in a melee face-off.
When all is said and done, it is difficult to recommend TRON: Evolution as a game. Though it expands on some of the background leading up to the new film and gives us a bit more insight into Quorra's character, suffering through the tedious gameplay segments just isn't worth it, even for a hardcore fan. If you want the definitive TRON video game experience, don't bother with TRON: Evolution. Head out to your favorite budget retailer and snag a copy of TRON 2.0 on the cheap. It may not be canon, but it is leagues better than anything you'll find here.
Editor's Note: Be sure to check out our "TRON: Legacy" movie review.
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