I’m an unabashed TRON fan. I love the original film, the original video games, and even the unofficial sequel TRON 2.0. When TRON: Legacy was revealed, I was stoked. Finally, twenty-some years later, the franchise was coming back. I wasn’t just excited about the prospect of the upcoming film though. The idea that a developer might make a proper TRON video game to tie into the film with the power of the current gaming generation had me hopeful that I’d get to spend some time of my own in the Grid. Perhaps my mistake was blindness to any product with the name TRON on it. I forgot that it was impossible for anyone to make a movie tie-in game that was worth a damn. TRON: Evolution does not buck that trend. In fact, TRON: Evolution is so bad I almost became disinterested in the film after playing the game. Almost.
Set in the time between the end of the first film and the start of Legacy, Evolution pits you in the role of Anon, a new system administrator program that Kevin Flynn creates to help solve some problems in the Grid. Apparently a new breed of programs called ISOs have sprung to life from a mysterious lake, and their arrival on the Grid is seen by the Basics (read: user-created programs) as an affront on their sensibilities. Though Clu is dismayed by the uncertainty and chaos the ISOs bring to the order of the Grid, Flynn sees the arrival of the ISOs as a good thing. The reason you’re activated inside the Grid is to track down the source of a mysterious virus that’s been wreaking havoc on the ISO population. Working along side Flynn, Tron, and Quorra, you’ll have to travel all over the city to combat the virus and its creator, Abraxas. It’s a so-so story that only made the remotest of sense to me because I read the comic book prequel TRON: Betrayal as well. The comic leads directly into the events of the game, and the events of the game set up the world that a large part of the movie takes place in. If I were someone coming in cold to the plot, I’d not only be lost, but I also wouldn’t care a bit about what was happening. Playing yet another game as a faceless generic hero has worn out its welcome, and the paper-thin characterizations in the game give you no reason to care about anything that happens.
Missions in TRON: Evolution break down into a few different elements. Travel in the game is handled for the most part with some parkour in the vein of the revamped Prince of Persia from 2008. While I enjoyed that game tremendously, when utilized in Evolution, the parkour aspects fail to resemble anything remotely close to coherent. Since the “run” button is the same as the “engage parkour act” button, your character will often leap off into nothingness, begin wall runs when you didn’t want him to, or fail to make the transition jump to another wall entirely. When the elements at play are working, the game moves at a pretty decent clip. Unfortunately those moments are few and far between, and before long, you’ll find yourself growing frustrated with navigating the world. Like Prince of Persia, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, death doesn’t mean anything here. Though there is a small bit of consolation in knowing you’ve got infinite lives to try and make it to the next checkpoint (thank you, autosave), I can’t help but think that addition was made to counteract the poor mechanics of the parkour.
During select missions, you’ll be able to use light cycles as well as tanks to travel. These are some of the worst parts of the game, as not only do the cycles and tanks handle terribly, but the linearity of these segments also completely saps all the fun out of them. What was so great about light cycles in the film is the way they’re used in battle. Sure, the people of the Grid need to get around, and there’s probably no better way than with a super-fast vehicle, but driving down a one-way street isn’t very much fun. These driving missions only expect you to avoid obstacles on the road, and make it to the next section. It doesn’t matter if you die because you’ll just respawn, and there’s no time limit to keep you interested in performing well. The tank sections are an absolute joke, and their inclusion in this game has me baffled. The only reason you get into a tank is so that there’s a second vehicle for you to drive. At least while you’re in the tank you can fight off the waves of enemy tanks and soldiers that are waiting for you at roadblocks. The tanks are lumberingly slow, and the tank combat is ploddingly boring. Fortunately the standard melee combat is passable.
Hand-to-hand, or disc-to-disc, combat in Evolution is one of the only good elements of the game. There are four different types of discs you can unlock, each with a different ability. Though you can finish the game without ever using a disc other than the standard one issued to you at the start of the game, the bomb disc and stasis disc do come in handy late in the game. There’s a combo system at play as well, and with a little practice, you’ll be slinging your fists and disc in conjunction in no time. Combos in the game don’t get too crazy, and most only require a few different button presses in succession to properly pull off. Each of the discs also offers a few different special moves like ground pounds or the ability to freeze enemies in place momentary, adding yet another flavor to the mix. The different enemies you’ll fight along the way also provide some much-needed variation to the repetitive game. Despite being one of the best parts of the game, the combat still doesn’t hold a candle to that in any of TRON: Evolution’s contemporaries. Nearly every aspect of the game is borrowed from another, and it’s replicated quite poorly.
Multiplayer, the one portion of the game that I thought would be most reminiscent of TRON, ends up being okay, but still far from anything remarkable. There are a few different game types; all variations on the standard deathmatch and king of the hill modes. Up to ten people can play on several different map styles (some for straight-up combat, others large enough for vehicles), and the better you perform, the more experience you earn. Thankfully, the leveling system carries over into the single-player campaign, and you can earn experience progressing the story as well. There are a lot of advantages to leveling your character, as the unlocks available beyond level 20 really make the difference online. Unfortunately the online multiplayer isn’t worth playing for long enough to really see the effects of some of the later benefits. It’s great to get into one of the larger arenas for some light cycle action, but they control so poorly that you’re better off just running around on foot trying to hit the other drivers with your disc. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say the multiplayer feels tacked on, this portion of the game is very rough around the edges, and doesn’t present anything new or interesting to keep you coming back beyond your first attempt.
The best thing about TRON: Evolution is how the game looks. The Grid is a wonderfully rendered world, and you get a real feel for how technologically advanced the world is. Every character in the game looks awesome in their unique light-up suits. Even the fake Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner look all right without helmets on. Olivia Wilde’s likeness, though? Man, I don’t know who was in charge of her character model, but they dropped the ball completely. You would think that since the actress is one of the few actors actually voicing her character that they would get her model right, but you’d be wrong. She’s not the only human character that looks bizarre though. Mostly every other person that isn’t wearing a suit or helmet looks bad. It’s a good thing the game never zooms in close enough on many of those people, otherwise Evolution might have been a bit harder to look at. Though everything in the world looks shiny and new, the animations in the game don’t really look complete. Often your character will jerk through animations that you chain together, and the computer characters all follow the same patterns of their respective classes. Even though Daft Punk lends some of their score to the game, it’s only two tracks, and they repeat quite often. The rest of the ambient soundtrack isn’t terrible, but it pales in comparison. It may be unfair to point out, but it’s true nonetheless.
I was hoping for more from TRON: Evolution. Unfortunately, all I got was another disappointing movie tie-in that’s not very fun to play. I thought there was no way with so much advance time before the movie was due in theaters that the developers would churn out a game this bad. While the plot of the game will likely shed some light on events of the film, sitting through the five or six hours it takes you to complete Evolution aren’t worth the investment. Even die-hard fans won’t find much to like, and it’s a shame a game of this low a quality has to have the TRON name on it.