Tron: Evolution

Year: 2010
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Developer: Propaganda Games
Genre: Action/Adventure
Review Date: 1/4/11
Rating: ***

"Tron: Evolution" serves as a prelude to "Tron: Legacy" (2010), chronicling Clu's rise to power and the purge of the ISO's. The game starts out with Tron City being infected by a computer virus that calls itself Abraxas, who corrupts other programs and slowly starts taking over The Grid. Clu blames the ISO's for the appearance of this abomination and puts a sinister plan into play. You play the game as a faceless and speechless system monitor who basically runs around Tron City following Quorra (Olivia Wilde). First of all, this really annoyed me. If I'm just going to follow Quorra, then why can't I play as her? That would make for a much more interesting game experience. It isn't until the very end of the game that your role becomes clear, which leads to a very poignant and downbeat climax. Still, it's difficult to identify with your faceless, emotionally detached, muscle-bound avatar.

Production wise, the game looks and sounds great, except that the opening teaser movie is marred by gratuitous lens flares. Didn't this go out of style in the mid 90's? Film cinematographers go out of their way to reduce lens distortions, while computer animators go out of their way to introduce them. A subtle touch here and there is fine, but the results in this movie are a distracting visual blight. Not a good way to start off the game. Once you're in the game, the neon and glass stylings of Tron City are nice to look at, but the environment ultimately feels cold and barren. The music is superb and based on Daft Punk's movie score, and some of the ambient sounds are reminiscent of the "Silent Hill" games, which adds a spooky eeriness to the game. Olivia Wilde and Bruce Boxleitner lend their voices to the game, along with a very good Jeff Bridges impersonator. Unfortunately, the voice of Zuse is completely off, which ends up being grating.

The game was clearly inspired by the free-running antics of "Prince Of Persia" (2008), but the execution is not nearly as fluid. The game utilizes the Unreal Engine, which is not well suited for platforming adventures. The controls are twitchy and the camera can be very frustrating. Jumping is spastic and unpredictable, which leads to numerous accidental deaths, followed by an annoyingly long reload screen. This "recompiling" screen is cute the first time you see it, but it quickly becomes a nuisance after that. Climbing is the most frustrating action of all, as it involves a strange combination of sprinting and jumping. If your timing is off, you end up jumping off the wall in the opposite direction, often to your doom. Combat is frantic and confusing, and often boils down to random button mashing in hopes that your attacks will make contact with an enemy. There are dozens of combo moves you can perform, but they're difficult to pull off and usually not worth the effort. To makes matters worse, the game's hint system usually comes up right when you're getting pounded on, so you can't take the time to read what it has to say. Ultimately, the key to success is to run away from the enemy while continually taking advantage of the health strips and energy fountains that are in the area. Perseverance usually wins out over aggression.

In addition to disc combat, the game also features several segments where you can pilot a lightcycle or tank. The lightcycle sections are merely linear runs where you try to avoid obstacles that get thrown in your way. It creates a nice sensation of speed, but it's way too easy to die, which means you end up repeating these runs to the point of frustration. The tank sections fare a little better, as you basically try to blow up everything that gets in your way. There's a nice "Space Paranoids" feel to it as you blow descending Recognizers out of the sky. The steering controls are a bit weird, and the tank prefers rolling in reverse for some bizarre reason. The game offers little in terms of replay value except for collecting discs and virus fragments that are hidden in the various chapters.

Overall, "Tron: Evolution" is as difficult and confusing as it is boring, which is unfortunate. I enjoyed the experience, but was constantly annoyed and frustrated by its presentation and lack of precision. The movie tie-in works pretty well, but raises some niggling continuity issues. While it does a good job of presenting the Tron aesthetic, it would have been better served by a fine tuned control scheme.