A videogame, based on a film that is based on being trapped inside a videogame… Still with us? Tron: Evolution from Propaganda Games and Disney Interactive Studios ties in with the cinema release of Tron: Legacy; the sequel to the 1982 sci-fi film from Steven Lisberger. Hype might well be growing to unprecedented levels for the latest effects-laden, eye-popping visual feast that is Tron: Legacy (guided by a breathtaking sweep of science-fiction vision and neon-lit harmony) but Tron: Evolution plants itself firmly in-tow – a game that takes the Tron licence and influences from a number of established game franchises and maintains a strong appeal in spite of its movie tie-in credentials.
Evolution is a prequel to Tron: Legacy, although the mentions of ISO’s, BASIC’s and a heavy dose of other computer and binary-based jargon does little to really expand on the sumptuous universe of the inner-workings of Tron and the ‘Grid’ – the darkness of the digital computer void entwined with neon-lit costumes, light discs and light cycles – other than really give existential information to fans of the world on how creator Kevin Flynn came to be entrapped in the Grid. Following a faceless and essentially nameless figure (your playable protagonist is referred to as ‘Anon’) – a security program designed by Flynn, or an advanced AVG Virus Checker – Evolution sparks into life within the system where tensions between the aforementioned BASIC’s and newer ISO’s heightens to unprecedented levels, and the release of a virus (known as ‘Abraxas’) sees the young Jeff Bridges (or ‘Clu’) try to take control of the entire system.
But whatever your opinion on the supposed plot, it will do little to deter any of you who remain tantalisingly engrossed, as we are, with Tron’s exceptional art direction and design. The darkened realms of the Grid are lit only by neon-blues, oranges and dashes of white and this gives the game an individuality all of its own without any dexterous effort from the design team at Propaganda. Nevertheless, the flashy visuals are a perfect match for the game engine as Evolution (whether through smoke and mirrors or not) exposes itself as one of the most graphically adept and meticulously rendered games of recent months, if not years.
The team at Propaganda have certainly not taken the easy root and simply planted the visual aesthetics into subsidiary, stale game mechanics though, with the almost mystical energy of Tron incorporated into how the game plays; neon-lit health walls temporarily lose ‘power’ and fade once used, sections of the game world dismantle into bitty orange blocks where corruption holds sway, platforms vanish beneath you, deleted from existence, and enemies become “derezzed” in a fountain of bright sparks. One sublime chapter sees the action unfolding with an escape from Arija City,with the virtual segments of the world being torn apart by binary corruption and unwanted computer viruses – piece by programmed piece disintegrating into the virtual ether. Likewise, a race to the Game Grid on Tron’s light cycles, the trail of colour expelling from the glossy rear of the craft, sees virtual grids blown to pieces in the kind of hard drive formatting you never wish to incur. Is this really what happens inside our PC?
A third-person adventure game for all intents and purposes, Tron: Evolution aligns itself closely with the style of fluid parkour games such as Assassin’s Creed and, particularly, 2008’s Prince of Persia re-boot. The two games listed here sum up two very distinct portions of the game; the free-running/platforming sections and the combat system. We have gripes with both but it is the platforming sections that we come to first, suffering from a number of unwanted camera angles and somewhat sticky control mechanics. Jumping from platform to platform is often sluggish and unresponsive, resulting in the irritating death screen (‘System Monitor Derezzed. Recompiling Program… Importing Back Up…’) cropping up more often than we’d like. The combat, meanwhile, sees you select any one of four disc types (Heavy, Bomb, Stasis, Corruption) to derezz the various enemy types. While some initial depth comes as a result of having to assess each enemy type to judge which disc to use and which combo to input (short, mid-range and long-range disc attacks), we found ourselves going for the ‘Triangle’ attack all too often in its many guises – the most powerful attack, with the down-side in that it uses ‘Energy’. This energy can be picked up through leaping certain objects in the world, whilst health can be replenished by running over health station panels, removing a lot of the exhilaration of the fight in favour of the quick-fix.
Any puzzle-solving or need to engage the brain is sadly overlooked; boss enemy types are ‘assessed’ beforehand, highlighting their weakness and style of attack, while runs through levels are linear and unvaried. The Prince of Persia similarities come apparent here more than ever, where one-on-one boss battles inter-cut the free-running and the wall-jumping that fleshes out much of the game (at a cost).
Another Tron videogame, whether you like movie tie-ins or not, is certainly warranted and is more than welcome. The game exceeds our expectations in nearly all areas and certainly rates highly in our minds-own check-list of movie cash-ins. The universe is sinister, yet memorising and visually stunning and the game transports you to the world in glowing fashion. Tron: Evolution then, is a decent attempt, but one that never quite matches the ambition or the inspired creativity of the licence upon which it is built.
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