- December 04, 2010 12:00 PM PT
Repetitive and uninspired gameplay won’t keep casual fans interested for very long, but Tron faithfuls will dig living on the grid for a few hours.
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With blockbuster-to-be Tron: Legacy lighting up the silver screen later this month, it’s no surprise that Disney Interactive is banking on the franchise’s geek-fueled buzz with a video-game adaptation. Bridging the lengthy gap between the 1982 cult classic and the upcoming sequel, Tron: Evolution borrows elements from both films, giving gamers a chance to dig deeper into the series’ rich sci-fi lore. While this trip to the grid is a pretty standard third-person action affair, it does a decent job leveraging the hallmarks of the rebooted license.
Evolution’s techno-babble-filled narrative will seem sparse and confusing to those who wouldn’t know a Lightcycle from a tricycle, but those familiar with Kevin Flynn’s exploits will be right in their element. Characters from both films, as well as Easter Egg-y nods, are numerous and nicely flesh out the universe in ways few film-tied titles do. In fact, its faithfulness to and knowledge of the source material actually made me want to refresh my own Tron memories -– consider my Netflix queue updated -– and further fed my enthusiasm for the new film.
The game also succeeds in capturing the unique look and feel of the series’ bathed-in-blue world. Environments, both the more familiar interiors and lesser seen wasteland-like exteriors, effectively utilize a limited color set consisting of varying shades of blue and black. Despite the modest palette, though, everything sports a crisp futuristic look that’s further sharpened by the striking streaks of neon running through the world. A mood-setting score and sound effects that wouldn’t be out of place in the upcoming film further immerse in this digitized universe.
While the presentation will no doubt please those that have waited nearly thirty years for Tron’s big screen return, the familiar-feeling gameplay won’t exactly drop their jaws. It’s not bad, mind you, just excessively ordinary. As Anon, a security program sent into the grid to investigate dual threats –- aggressive programs with evolving minds of their own and a rapidly spreading virus –- players are placed in the iconic illuminated suit. From there, they’re tasked with platforming and battling through seven levels clocking in at about ten hours of play time. The former challenges are very similar to what you’d pull off in a Prince of Persia title -- jumping, sprinting, wall-running -- while the latter has you using the series’ signature Light Discs for melee and ranged combat.
The parkour-heavy platforming is fun, if not particularly inventive, especially when you string a variety of moves together in lightning-fast succession. Having to scamper over wall-mounted strips and vault over pods for health and energy, respectively, is also a nice touch. There’s also a magnet-powered maneuver that sort of works like a sci-fi grappling hook. Navigating Evolution’s world like a monkey on a Red Bull bender is unquestionably cool for awhile, but it sadly loses its appeal as repetition strikes before the campaign’s midpoint. The combat similarly suffers, running out of steam long before you blast the last computer-controlled baddie to pixels. The discs come in four flavors, yielding special powers like abilities to explode or slow down enemies. And, as with the platforming, unleashing these enemy-frying frisbees is fun, at first; but by the game’s conclusion, you’ll feel like you’ve cleared a million rooms of similar enemies, using the same moves.
Some vehicle segments do break up this standard action, allowing Anon to blow stuff up behind the barrel of a tank and hop on the franchise’s defining mode of transportation, the Lightcycle. Both diversions inject some much needed variety and offer occasionally inspired moments -- hurtling down the highway on a beam of light as the world crumbles around you is admittedly awesome. But more often than not these linear sections devolve into the requisite “vehicle levels” cut from the third-person action template.
Evolution also takes the action online in a variety of modes based on multiplayer staples such as Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and King of the Hill. While the goals and objectives will be familiar to anyone who’s fragged friends online, the Tron paintjob does add some appeal; replacing guns with Light Discs and Warthogs with Lightcyles should offer at least a weekend’s worth of fun for anyone who pumped quarters into the classic Tron arcade game back in the day.
Evolution’s gameplay is standard stuff; you’ve done all this before, just not behind death-dealing discs or while straddling a bike that leaves a wall of light in your wake. That said, the slick Tron facade may be enough to make serious Flynn fan-boys forget they’ve faced similar challenges before. Toss in a good, albeit for-fans-only storyline, and a presentation that gets you as close to this universe as possible -– without actually getting sucked into a computer yourself, of course -– and Evolution succeeds as one of the better movie tie-ins I‘ve seen in awhile. Tron newcomers probably needn’t apply, but those who count the original film among their favorites may want to enter Evolution’s grid.
PROS: Great Tron-inspired presentation; super-fans will appreciate the universe-expanding story; better than most movie-based games
CONS: Gameplay is uninspired, familiar third-person action stuff; repetition sets in about half way through campaign