TRON: Evolution Review

By Kevin Kelly - Posted Dec 07, 2010

TRON: Evolution is a great game trapped in the shell of bad gameplay design, and as a result only hardcore TRON fans and nostalgia seekers should apply. Or, you know, if you enjoy frustration and multiple deaths.

The Pros
  • TRON-specific game graphics
  • Awesome soundtrack
  • Innovative multiplayer idea
The Cons
  • Frustrating gameplay
  • Maddening checkpoints
  • Very poor camera at times
  • Repetitive, repetitive, repetitive

TRON: Evolution Review:

TRON: Evolution is a great game trapped in the shell of bad gameplay design, and as a result only hardcore TRON fans and nostalgia seekers should apply. Or, you know, if you enjoy frustration and multiple deaths.
 


 
Is It Really Tron? After All These Years?

I would be lying if I said that TRON was a great movie. The truth is that I saw it when I was ten years old, at an age and an era where video games were the greatest thing I could ever conceive. So someone makes a movie about them? Pure genius. Sadly, it doesn't really hold up that well with today's flash and pop, but it has a tight hold on my nostalgia genes. It'll never let go.

So nearly 28 years later, Hollywood churns out a sequel to this game, based on years of it being a geeky, nerdy, gamer-centric cult hit. Of course, there's the obligatory movie tie-in game to go along with it, because when Hollywood smells money, they turn into a very hungry, very dim-witted shark. But, the TRON-loving gamer inside of me still hopes against hope that a good game could come out of this. Especially once I discovered that the game isn't a movie tie-in at all, but rather a prequel that is meant to bridge the gap between TRON and TRON: Legacy, the new film.

The result? Unfortunately, it's a very intriguing story told against a stunning backdrop with some truly innovative multiplayer notions, but hampered by extremely poor design and bad gameplay. The end result is a title that should have been derezzed before it got this far, despite the fact it does have some merit.

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Greetings, Programs

First of all, you need to be warned that there are some spoilers in here. So, if you don't want the game, or possibly even the new movie spoiled for you, you need to quit reading right now. Basically, the story here is how Kevin Flynn and his program Clu (who is a clone of Flynn, for all intents and purposes) come to be at odds with each other, while a new race of sentient, organic programs is destroyed in the process.

In TRON: Evolution, Flynn opens the story by dictating some webcam-ish quality video to a recording device. He talks about the “grid” and how it has evolved. It's changed to a state he never could have imagine, and now he spends most of his nighttime hours there working. A new race of beings called “Isos” (isomorphic algorithms) that have sprung forth from the grid on their own. They represent a threat to some programs (called “basics,” programs that were written by a user), including Clu, and as he was created by Flynn to build “the perfect system,” he sets out to destroy them.

That's where you come in as a player. You're a program named Anon (anonymous) who has been created by Flynn to patrol the system, much like Tron. In fact, in the first mission you're helping Tron (voiced expertly by Bruce Boxleitner who created the role, although he's sadly barely in this game … or in the film for that matter) who Clu goes bad and attacks, sending Flynn on the run and leaving you to sort out of the pieces.

The remainder of the game has you investigating both Clu and a corruption named Abraxas that has appeared in the system begun infecting different areas. This puts a big hamper on the relationship between Basics and Isos, and Anon has to find out why.
 


 
Rebooting The Game

While the original TRON video game as a random collection of minigames based on the movie, TRON 2.0 actually expanded exponentially on the world and was a great game. You played as Jet Bradley, the son of Alan “Tron” Bradley and that highly original game had Jet fighting inside the computer, much like his father's program did, which has now been updated and called “Tron Legacy.” Nice title! But Disney has disavowed that game and says it isn't canon. Which is why we have TRON: Evolution. Now you're a faceless (and voiceless) security program, clearing room after room.

Olivia Wilde reprises (originates?) her role as Quorra in this game, and Fred Tatiascore (Baird from Gears of War, among many other voices) does an extremely passable job as Kevin Flynn / Clu. As mentioned, Bruce Boxleitner reprises his Tron voice, and there as a slew of new actors brought in like Jensen Ackles (TV's Supernatural) who plays Gibson, and others like John Glover, James Frain, and yes, even Nolan North. The voice acting is actually fairly decent for the most part, and you'll find yourself yearning for the return of Clu, and then Flynn himself due to Tatiascore's pitch-perfect zen, “Hey man!” performance as Jeff Bridges.

But, the game is 90% you, learning how to use your disc-based attacks, parkour running and climbing antics, and vehicles around the Grid. The entire level design is: kill bad guys, climb, jump, wall-run, and watch a cutscene. The story is engaging enough to keep you going, but the repetitive gameplay will grate on you often, especially since the camera can be extremely wonky, and your view is very far back from most of the action. With a world this iconic and with disc-based combat, you want things to be up close and personal.
 


 
It Ain't Frisbee Golf

Your primary attack in TRON: Evolution is with your identity disc. This medium-ranged weapon allows you to unleash combos and special attacks as you upgrade your disc, and is your only method for chewing through the bad guys in the game. As you level up, you eventually gain access to four types of disc attacks: Heavy (stronger attack), Bomb (explosive attack), Stasis (puts enemies in a slow-motion field), and Corruption (infects your enemy briefly). You cycle through these with the D-pad, and use various combinations of triggers and combos for different attacks.

Each time you encounter a new foe, your program will scan the hostile and discover their strengths and weaknesses. This will tell you which attack is optimal, although at lower levels almost every attack does damage. You'll have to learn how to parry and dodge attacks to survive, but just be prepared to die in this game. Many, many, many times. Sometimes you will be swarmed by enemies, other times you will simply walk off of a path accidentally and fall to your doom, because the level design can be very unclear at times.

If you do happen to die, or derezz, you will “restore from backup” or spawn at your last checkpoint. Which is good, because if you had a finite number of lives you would never, ever finish this game. Instead, you can respawn infinitely, although due to the wonky checkpoint system, this might mean starting back at the very beginning of a level again, or back to the first wave of many enemies before a boss battle. It's extremely frustrating to nearly clear a level, only to be dumped back well before the difficult part you died on.
 


 
I Want To Ride My Light Cycle, I Want To Ride My Bike


Light cycles are probably the coolest and most iconic parts of the Tron universe, and they do appear in the game. However, in story mode they only exist as vehicles to get you from point a to point b, usually why you're being attacked by tanks and recognizers. Several levels consist of nothing more than you fleeing down a lengthy blue highway while trying not to get bombed or have the path derezz from underneath you, and there is no vehicular light cycle combat like in the films. Sure, the cycles look nice, but I really wanted to be able to perform 90 degree turns and cut off bad guys with my light trail.

You also get to pilot a light tank a few times in the game, which is an extremely overpowered piece of tech. You can mow down other tanks, infantry, and recognizers easily in these things, which probably explains why they aren't in the game that much. There are a couple of areas where you'll have to battle a tank solo, armed only with your disc, and you might think that's hard, until you get to the spot where you have to battle two tanks while you're on foot. Sadly, you do not get to drive a recognizer at all in this game, which was one of the things I was looking most forward to after seeing Jeff Bridges do it in TRON.
 


 
Upgrades

As you progress through TRON: Evolution, your program will gain a new version (level up) as he collects enough XP. Levels unlock different abilities and upgrades, which can be purchased through disc stations that are scattered throughout the game. You buy these with memory bits, which are acquired after battles or levels, and can be used towards 53 (!) different upgrades in the menus. You can increase your attacks, your health, purchase upgraded light cycles, pick up multiplayer bonuses and so on. It's a lot deeper than you'd expect, and save those bits because the more you spend, the better the upgrade.

Speaking of upgrades, the designers have done something truly ingenious here. When you access a disc station, you can upgrade, change your loadout (for multiplayer), or, you can jump directly into multiplayer on the game grid. Jumping into a match will give you XP and memory bit bonuses that can then be used for upgrades, and when you've had your fill you just dump yourself right back into the story mode.

This is truly something spectacular that I hope people take note of. If you're having a hard time with multiple foes, just jump into the game grid, play a few matches of Disintegration (one with the most derezzes wins) or Power Monger (capture nodes and hold them) or Bit Runner (capture the flag) to level up, upgrade your character, and then seamlessly move back into the story mode. You can do this from the main menu, sure, but having it accessible from every disc station is fantastic. It's just too bad the rest of the game doesn't hold up.
 


 
Tron? Or Spider-Man? Or Desmond?

TRON: Evolution wants to be several games at once. It takes the climbing/running/wall-jumping from games like Assassin's Creed and Price of Persia, and tries to have you explore to find Tron memories and shards from Abraxas' disc. But in reality, you're simply moving from area to area and engaging in battle. You aren't interfacing with the outside world at all, and there is absolutely no interaction with Tron himself (he only appears briefly at the beginning of the game), and scant little with Kevin Flynn or Clu. Quorra will guide you through levels from time to time, and you team up with Gibson briefly, but for the most part you're on your own.

There is one chapter where you will run into an area filled with programs who will then scream and run away in fear as the bad guys come after you. The area gets locked down, and won't open until you defeat everyone. This happens through room after room after room, and your detached view simply takes you out of the emotional pull of it, and it really is a “hammer the attack button” mechanic to progress. There isn't much strategy or blocking required until the final couple of encounters. Plus the endless deaths as you miss a jump or simply don't see that the floor isn't there will flummox you.

Multi-Mental


Even though the multiplayer innovation to hop into the game grid is awesome, the multiplayer itself isn't. In fact, it's a mess. There are three modes that boil down to deathmatch, domination, and capture the flag, but these levels just weren't well designed for this type of gameplay, and the matchmaking is horrendous. I jumped into several online games that pitted me against one other player on a massive map, which basically became a battle to control the tank. Control that and you can pwn the match. Especially because most players don't seem to yet realize that you can launch disc-attacks from your light cycle.

Speaking of the light cycles, you can launch into them on some maps by hitting the right bumper, and watching your character throw himself forward as a cycle rezzes around him is a beautiful things. Sadly, it's the only intriguing part of multiplayer at all. Disintegration disc-fights quickly turn boring, and again you have the same camera-pulled-way-back view of the game. It's a real forehead smacker.
 


 
End of Line

In the end, there were many times that I wished my controller would turn into an identity disc so I could hurl it through my television. Many, many, many times. It's very frustrating when you have a game with a decent story and some great ideas that gets killed by bad design, but that's what holds back TRON: Evolution.

It's unfortunate, too, because Disney Interactive Studios had been having such a banner year, what with the much better than expected Toy Story 3 game, Split/Second, and Disney Epic Mickey. But unfortunately TRON: Evolution is a stumbling block, and it makes you wonder why Disney killed Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned and not this title. Perhaps TRON was just further along in the development cycle. Pirates looked much better, and ironically Propaganda Games developed both. They were also behind the lukewarm Turok reboot from a couple of years ago.

In the end, save your money, go see TRON: Legacy a couple of times, and then download TRON or Discs of  TRON. The best thing about TRON: Evolution besides a few of the visuals is the amazing soundtrack. Two of the Daft Punk songs from the film soundtrack are on here, but there is some truly great original music composed by composers Sascha Dikiciyan, Cris Velasco, and Kevin Manthei. Hopefully, the soundtrack will get released on its own, but for now, TRON: Evolution is definitely a pass.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?