Developed by Propaganda Games (remember Turok, anyone?) Tron: Evolution comes in the wake of the cinematic release of Tron: Legacy, one of 2010’s most anticipated blockbusters. Unlike most movie-based titles, Evolution stands as both a sequel and prequel, following up from the events of the Tron: Betrayal comic series whilst remaining several years behind Tron: Legacy.
Players assume the role of Anon, a system monitor programmed by creator of the Tron world, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges). After the suspicious death of their leader, Jalen, tensions begin to rise between the ISOs and Basics, the two inhabitant “races” of The Grid. As a security measure, Flynn tasks Anon to watch over the ceremonial appointment of Radia, the first ISO system administrator, however, the parade is ambushed by an unknown virus calling himself Abraxas. In the chaos, Flynn is unexpectedly cornered by his Grid-world double, Clu, who is hellbent on purging the system of all ISOs. Alongside Quorra, the leading female in Tron: Legacy, it’s up to you to put a stop to Clu’s plan and expose him.
For those who know nothing about Tron fiction, the paragraph above may have made no sense whatsoever. That is exactly how I felt upon playing the opening level. Evolution makes the assumption that its players have a working knowledge of the ‘82 flick as well as the comic books, already creating a harsh barrier to entry. It wasn’t until I actually sat down in the cinema and watched Tron: Legacy that the pieces started to fall into place.
Though the game starts off with a bang, the story is spread too thinly across the middle section, resulting in pointless character appearances, cheesy dialogue and a poor script. Only Tron fans and those who have already seen Legacy will appreciate the narrative, leaving everyone else to scratch their heads.
The single-player campaign is composed of seven lengthy, linear stages, guiding Anon and Quorra from Tron City to Ajira, the Outlands and several other vistas in The Grid. Evolution is played mostly from a third person perspective, though when in combat, it will lock into an almost birds-eye view. Anon mostly makes use of his parkour skills to get from A to B, being able to run along walls, grab onto ledges and leap over gaps (think Prince of Persia.) Though fun at times, it’s not entirely fluid and the small gallery of perilous obstacles – such as beams of energy – fail to impress, having not been integrated into the game particularly well.
There are also a handful of instances allowing players to ride Tron’s iconic Lightcycle, essentially a sci-fi motorbike which spews a ribbon of energy from the exhaust. Unfortunately, these segments of gameplay are utterly underwhelming; there are no Grid Game duels whatsoever, and the Lightcycle handles just as poorly as the Light Tank.
Those expecting full Move support for the PS3 version of Tron: Evolution will be even more disappointed. Only accessible during the Lightcycle portions of the game, players can hold the Move controller out in front of them and tilt from side to side to control the vehicle. It’s incredibly sluggish and it feels as if Propaganda shoved it in at the last second just to get more casual appeal from the PlayStation Move box label.
Though slightly better, the combat is still riddled with flaws. Anon’s ID disc is his only weapon throughout the entire game, though it has four different modules, each one assigned to a button on the D-Pad. The Heavy Disc is the first available and also the most effective, simply allowing for stronger throws. The Stasis Disc can slow enemies down, leaving them open to a barrage of attacks. The Bomb Disc is capable of hitting multiple opponents, with the Corruption Disc causing damage over time upon impact. Using any special attacks associated with each module will use up a bar of energy which, along with the health bar, needs to be closely monitored. Instead of health and energy drops, players will be forced to run or vault over energised objects, which will replenish the stat bars.
One of the game’s few triumphs is the way it handles movement when in combat. Apart from being able to perform basic functions such as blocking and parrying enemy attacks, you can also recall your free-running skills in order to outsmart your opponents. The gameplay may prove frustrating at times, though it’s still functional and even fun in some instances.
Online Multiplayer is also present in Tron: Evolution, though it too suffers from the flaws of the single-player experience. Combat and navigation are handled exactly the same, though energy supplies are more limited to balance out the playing field. It can get incredibly repetitive and even messy at times, especially when you get players spamming area attacks. Game types include your regular team based objectives such as Team Disintegration and Power Struggle, with a couple of free-for-all variants. It’s a shame Evolution doesn’t include actual Grid Games from the films (basically techno gladiatorial battles.)
Whether you are playing online or in the campaign, you are continually rewarded with experience points for in-game actions which feed into the same gauge. Levelling up will unlock stat bonuses for your character as well as perk-like abilities, both of which grant unfair bonuses to higher levelled players. In one of the first matches I entered there was a level fifty combatant surrounded by under twenties; no matter how many times they attacked, his health bar always remained intact and when he finally decided to fight back, he could easily dispatch the entire crowd in a single blow.
With its cinematic counterpart being described as the 3D event of the year, it’s unfortunate that Tron: Evolution draws short in the visual department. Surfaces lack the sterile sheen showcased in Tron: Legacy, with the character animation being the only highlight and cut-scenes are also fairly bland, with the film cast’s voice acting being their only saving grace. With that said, the soundtrack is solid and delivers where it needs to, one of the tracks being Daft Punk’s recent hit “Derezzed.”
- Plenty of replay value in the form of online play and collectables
- A fan service for Tron enthusiasts
- Jeff Bridges and Olivia Wilde, accompanied by Daft Punk
- Despite some unique mechanics, the gameplay is inconsistent and cumbersome at times
- Unbalanced online play
- Players need prior knowledge of Tron to even understand what’s going on
- Underwhelming graphics
- Sluggish, almost non-existent, Move support
If you have seen and enjoyed Tron: Legacy, then it may be worth picking up Evolution to explore the universe a little further. However, if you happen to be a gamer with no connections to the series, it’s difficult to recommend. Despite the various flaws in both its gameplay and presentation there is still plenty of fun to be had. Tron: Evolution isn’t a bad game, it’s just underwhelming. What hurts more is that Tron: Evolution was prioritised over Propaganda’s other title in development, Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned, a promising action RPG which debuted at E3 to high praise but was cancelled in October.
This review is based on the PS3 version.