Between Disney's 1982 classic Tron and its flash 2010 sequel lies Tron: Evolution, the video game that seeks to bridge the gap between the two films. This is one shaky bridge.
Tron: Evolution puts players in the digital shoes of Anon (short for Anonymous), a faceless system monitor that gets caught up in the struggle between the original movie's hero Kevin Flynn and Clu, a program created in Flynn's likeness to represent him inside the digital world of The Grid. Clu has gone rogue, and it'll take all of Anon's free-running parkour skills and disc combat proficiency to set up the plot for Tron: Legacy.
Players intrigued by Tron's glowing digital world will find plenty of backstory lurking within Evolution's extras, while devotees of Prince of Persia-style action adventure games might enjoy the action, as long as they don't mind repetition.
Tron: Evolution is the direct sequel to what many consider the world's first great video game movie, and elements from the game are said to give extra insight into scenes from the upcoming feature film Tron: Legacy.
How does Evolution fit into the Tron story? Evolution seems to take place way before the events in Tron: Legacy, mainly because Flynn is still a relatively young man, the mirror image of his evil avatar Clu. Olivia Wilde's Quorra appears as she does in the film, though not nearly as sexy thanks to the game's rough character models. Evolution basically establishes the status quo as seen in Tron: Legacy, showing us how Flynn became trapped in the Grid and how Clu transformed from a loyal program to an evil digital dictator. The meat of the Tron fiction found in the game comes from data files unlocked along the way, with the story often taking a back seat to the action, such as it is.
So that's the adventure, what's the action? I spent equal time in Tron: Evolution battling glowing enemies with my deadly disc and navigating the convoluted architecture of the grid using parkour-inspired wall running and climbing moves. Combat was dynamic and compelling at first, but soon it became clear that the best tactic to win was spamming energy-fueled power moves, transforming battles into a dance back and forth between enemies and energy wells. Likewise jumping, climbing, and wall-running about the environment was entertaining initially, quickly becoming stale as I realized the obstacles weren't really evolving as the game progressed. Towards the end of the game the only real excitement came from being blinded by bad camera angles.
What happened to poor Quorra?
Surely there's more to it than that, right? Well there is the odd light cycle segment, though they're a far cry from the tense light-trail based battle arenas of the original film. Here the light cycle is merely a method of conveyance, transporting Anon from point A to point B, often as the world is crumbling around him. These segments would be more enjoyable if the world were less monochrome, which would in turn make obstacles more visible. There are also a couple of tank-driving levels, which, while slow and plodding, were probably my favorite moments in the single-player campaign
Is the multiplayer just as tepid? Not at all! The multiplayer is actually where the action is in Tron: Evolution. Getting together with a bunch of players and tossing discs at each other or trying to trick them into running into your light cycle trail is a real blast. Unfortunately it's a real unbalanced and repetitive blast. See, as you play through Tron: Evolution in multiplayer or single-player, you earn experience points which give you memory to spend on upgrades. These upgrades carry back and forth between the story missions and online modes. These upgrades are substantial, granting players massive chunks of extra health and powerful new weapons. Since there is no way currently to limit online matches to people of similar levels, I often found myself playing my level 21 character against lower-level players, and I tore through them like tissue paper. Conversely I could barely scratch a level 50 character. Between the unbalance and the fact that the game only comes with four maps (two more with the day-one free DLC), I can't see multiplayer being a source of lasting entertainment.
Tron: Evolution wants to be a sexy, high-gloss Prince of Persia, trading desert sands and Arabian castles for the shining neon of the Grid. Sadly that aspiration is never fully realized, leaving us with an experience that's dull despite its brilliant glow; a game that's most impressive accomplishment is making a four to five hour adventure seem long and drawn-out. Multiplayer offers a spark of hope, but that spark dies out too quickly. It's true that the game contains scenes and background information that could enhance your appreciation of both films, but those revelations will still be fresh when Tron: Evolution hits the bargain bin.
Tron: Evolution was developed by Propaganda Games and published by Disney Interactive Studios for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC, released on December 7. Retails for $59.99 ($39.99 PC). A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the entire story on average difficulty, earned level 22, and participated in multiple lengthy multiplayer matches.