Movie tie-ins usually suck. But with Tron mania at its height in the run-up to Disney’s franchise-rebooting Tron: Legacy, Fernando Caire attempts to put history out of his mind for Propaganda Games’ multi-platform spin-off.
There is nothing more notorious than videogame tie-ins to blockbuster movies. Only a handful have ever succeeded in becoming anything more than cheap marketing fodder: the rest lacked any substance or originality. I am sad to report that Tron: Evolution is not one of that handful.
It isn’t that the game lacks potential. When I first caught a glimpse at E3 earlier this year, my nerdy glee knew no bounds. At last, I would be able to leap into the Grid, ride a light cycle in online matches, and fight to the derezzed in the arena. And at core, Tron: Evolution feels like Propaganda Games really did try to make something worthy of that promise.
This just makes it all the more frustrating that publisher Disney Interactive has chosen to rush the game out of the door before Tron: Legacy, instead of developing what could have been a fantastic adventure into the world of the original 1982 movie. By the halfway mark, I just wanted to derez myself to end the suffering.
The plot of Tron: Evolution, or lack thereof, lazily attempts to bridge the gap between the two movies. The story starts off with Kevin Flynn (voiced by a fantastic Jeff Bridges impersonator) talking into a camera about the Grid and the dramatic changes it has undergone in the years since the events of the original.
At this point, a lot of technological terminology gets used that even I, a fan of the franchise, had trouble deciphering. But it transpired that new programs, the ISOs, were being created without users, gaining the gift of free will. The ‘basics’ – the original programs – were treating the ISOs as outcasts, suddenly dividing the Grid.
In addition, a virus-like threat known as Abraxas was growing and infecting the Grid – although I was never quite sure if this was supposed to be the main villain of the game, because I was then introduced to CLU, Kevin Flynn’s digital avatar. CLU turns evil in a record time of five minutes because Kevin Flynn unintentionally insults him. Character development: who needs it right?
So CLU takes over the Grid, while Abraxas is trying to infect everything with… well, viagra ads and spam emails, probably – and doesn’t come back until halfway into the game. You must now hack and slash your way through seven brief levels, while repeatedly taking part in painfully repetitive fights and puzzles. This is not how I envisioned my interactive Tron experience, Disney!
As you make your way through the game, you level up and earn megabytes which you can use at disc stations to upgrade your character, identity disc, or online multiplayer statistics. As you level up, you earn up to four types of identity disc attacks (heavy disc, stasis, infect and bomb) – which come in handy, since each enemy is vulnerable to different kinds of attacks.
It would have been nice to have a different set of moves for each disc style, but no: the button combinations are the same for each, with only the effects varying.
There is also an element of wall climbing and leaping that will feel way too familiar – although not necessarily in a positive way – to anyone who has played the Prince of Persia or Assassin’s Creed games. This is a carbon copy of those games disguised in florescent neon lights.
At times, this can be fun, but for every enjoyable moment, the poor level design generates five frustrating ones. Continuously leaping off a wall into the nothingness of the Grid gets old really fast, and my poor PS3 had to suffer my verbal abuse for the countless cheap deaths I had to endure.
But I would be a filthy liar if I said I didn’t have fun with any part of the game. The combat system, as repetitive as it becomes, is pretty intense. The martial art mechanics are impressive – and frankly, I love tossing the old identity disc while performing slow-motion acrobatics.
I can’t complain too much about the visuals, either: the reflections and the way the lights bounce off everything are really rather impressive. The animation for every fight is fluid and quite amazing when you perform a chain of attacks: it’s just a shame it isn’t more varied.
The voice acting is pretty top notch, too, with Olivia Wilde reprising her role from Legacy and Bruce Boxleitner back in front of the microphone in a brief (and rather poorly introduced) cameo as Tron himself.
Even the soundtrack is good, although making more of Daft Punk’s original score would have been preferable. After a while, hearing “Derezzed” and “The Grid” over and over again becomes incredibly tiring on the ears.
But hypnotically beautiful visuals and, at times, entertaining combat elements, are not enough to save this, outweighed as they are by poor controls, poorer storytelling, repetitive combat – and, above all, a lack of any original ideas.
The online multiplayer is pretty fun and offers a pretty good selection of versus and team versus modes, and the PS3 version is Move and 3DTV-compatible (not tested here). But in singleplayer, Tron: Evolution just never becomes a completely enjoyable game.
The heart is there: it just feels like the developers never had the time or resources to make the full-blown Tron experience I was expecting. Tron: Evolution isn’t a terrible game, but it isn’t a very good one either.
Verdict: Rent it – at least you can finish it inside eight hours
Tron: Evolution is released in the US on 7 December for Windows, PlayStation 3, PSP, and Xbox 360. The game is already on sale worldwide. Buy the games on Amazon.com here.
View the Tron: Evolution trailer
View The Art of Tron: Evolution
View a slideshow of concept art and screenshots