Before I begin, let me ask you a couple of quick questions; have you ever waited 30 years for something, and was it worth the wait? Many of the individuals reading this are likely not to have been around for the past 30 years, let alone having to quantify the value of waiting. So allow me to put this into perspective. Here is a list of just a few things that were unheard of 30 years agoATMs, LEDs, LCDs, digital photography, microprocessors, mobile phones, laptop computers, GPS, flash memory, fiber optics, internet and e-mail. Imagine 30 years ago we actually had to know the people we considered friends among our social network. The most telling trend in the past 3 decades is the explosion of information technology and its integration into our day to day lives.
What many dont realize is that a single movie, arguably, helped to shape our expectations and vision of todays technological standards. Obviously, I am referring to the classic TRON, released in 1982 to much fanfare and renowned for introducing us to the world of computer graphics (interestingly, TRON was refused an academy nomination for a special effects award because using computers for imagery was considered cheating?).
So, here we are, almost 30 years on and anticipating the sequel to the original. Most of us have witnessed the media hype over the release and of course, every genre is being affected. We are seeing, toys, action figures and obviously, video games. However, while TRON; Legacy picks up 28 years after the events at ENCOM, TRON; Evolution is meant to bridge the gap and introduce new and seasoned fans alike, to the updated digitized universe.
Published by Disney Interactive, TRON: Evolution is only the 2nd title released by developer Propaganda Studios. It should be noted that Propaganda Studios is a subsidiary of Disney Interactive and was created by former EA Canada staffers. The studios 3rd title based on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has been shelved as of this writing. It is well known in the gaming industry that movie based games are extremely lackluster; there are exceptions to the rule but the exceptions are often more creative than simple movie based games (Scott Pilgrim is a shining example). It is this level of creativity that Evolution both succeeds and fails.
You play in the digital universe as Anon, a systems monitor created by Kevin Flynn to maintain security throughout the system. Your core programming is quickly adapted when you witness events that will thrust your world into a digital uprising. Many of the films core characters are introduced including Flynn, Tron, CLU 2.0, Quorra, Gibson, and the ISOs. ISOs are self evolving programs that are new to the grid and are the subject of apprehension and suspicion, combine their introduction with newly identified viruses and you have the makings of a great set of plot twists. The issue is that the story is thrust forward far too quickly and any possible twists are seen long before they are introduced. Combined with the linear gameplay the story falls flat (unless youre a big fan of the TRON universe).
The gameplay itself is hampered on numerous fronts. The aforementioned linear style has you performing parkour inspired acrobatics to move from one are to the next which often left me to wonder how anyone was supposed to get around in the grid. Some areas justified the leaps and wall running, such as damaged or destroyed areas. Whereas others had you travel a straightforward approach that just happened to require stellar athleticism to achieve. The story works hard to introduce new and dynamic enemies for you to encounter and you have the ability to access and upgrade increasingly more powerful attacks. But the lack of cohesive storytelling has you wondering why you would bother to dive headlong into another senseless melee. Lucky for you, the setup and use of your arsenal is dynamic enough to make the battles only somewhat repetitive (unless youre a big fan of the TRON universe).
The Battle Tanks and Light Cycles make their triumphant return to video gaming and while controlling them is relatively nostalgic, some of the core mechanics are lost in Evolution. The battle tanks are clumsy and underwhelming but the real disappointment is with the Light Cycles. Everyone, regardless of age or experience, knows of the trademark light streams behind the cycles and how these streams are used to cut off and block our enemiesthe 90 degree turns of anarchy are virtually gone in Evolution. Instead we have segments of gameplay where you race along dangerous paths on a souped up motorcycle avoiding walls, barriers and the occasional disintegrating sections. Dont get me wrong its nice to be behind the wheel of these iconic machines but they lack the basis of what made them icons (unless youre a big fan of the TRON universe).
The controls are the biggest issue that Evolution presents to any gamer. The game has you jumping over minor obstacles to gain energy or running along light strips to restore health or wall running and combining different actions in several directions all of this takes some precise movements ... unfortunately precise movements are lacking in the control scheme. When running every tap of the control stick sends you character bolting with wild abandon, sure you can choose not to press the right trigger, which does allow for finer control, but you have to press the right trigger to perform any of the dynamic movements mentioned above. The controls are further hampered by a third person camera that is quick to choose a perspective for you, and while this has been done successfully in other games, Tron; Evolution is not one of them (unless youre a big fan of the TRON universe).
The visuals are full of the eye candy that has made TRON famous including the glowing suits and light streams. The enemies are varied enough that making choices, regarding what attacks to use, will only present an issue when there are 10 or more confronting you. You have the feeling that you are truly part of the grid and the multilayer approach to the cityscape gives a great sense of depth. Watching the identity discs fly about during combat is almost surreal and I was often caught off guard while catching glimpses of the characters or surroundings. The only issue I had with the game, visually, is the main character models. Whenever the main characters were showcased the facial features had more of cartoon look rather than a computerized representation. While a minor issue it really tends to remove you from the overall enjoyment (unless youre a big fan of the TRON universe).
There is a rather simplistic multiplayer mode included within TRON; Evolution. However, accessing the multiplayer is introduced in a unique and innovative way. You can access the multiplayer from the main menu but it is much more rewarding to access it through the single player campaign. Throughout the single player game you will come across data ports. These ports allow you to upgrade and access various aspects of your character but they also allow you to instantly enter the multiplayer battles. As an added incentive, all of your experience points in the multiplayer and single player modes are carried over to each mode. So the experience you gain in single player will give you additional options in multiplayer and vice versa. This is very handy when wanting to level up to access different abilities. The only issue I had with the multiplayer is the lack of inventiveness. Yes you have melee and vehicle battles but they all follow the traditional modes of play weve had before. Rather than enjoying the multiplayer on its own you really only want to multiplayer to help level your character (unless youre a big fan of the TRON universe).
There was a great opportunity, when developing this game, to introduce some new and innovative game play mechanics, but being true to the mantra, this movie based offering is just marginally above average. The game gains points because of its visuals and sound but the lack of any new innovations will keep this title from gaining any momentum beyond the TRON fan base. Which brings up an interesting note; fans of the TRON mythology have been waiting almost 30 years to return to the grid and while gamers have had lackluster attempts to revisit our favorite digital realm over the years, TRON; Evolution is the first in almost 30 years to be a part of the official cannon. I am scoring this game as a fan of the TRON universe, for individuals not yet a fan you can take off at least 5 points from the score.
I recently watched the original TRON with my young daughters (as a precursor to the game and movie). What stood out is not the achievements in cinematography but rather the bewildered expression on this generations face as they tried to understand why the characters look the way they did and why I talked so proudly of the film. I guess when you experience as much as kids do today; the wins of yesteryear are easily dismissed. BTW, my kids did enjoy the Pac man and hidden Mickey Easter eggs if you havent spotted them, look it up.