Hats off to Propaganda Games, who has tried to break away from the movie-based videogame stigma by creating a universe befitting of Tron’s cult status, capturing with some style the visual aesthetic of the original, cult classic. The evocative neon-lit blue, black and orange high-tech industrial environments offer a parkour playground filled with futuristic fixtures and fittings that shimmer and shine, with many platforms to leap to, walls to run off and grapple points to swing from wherever you turn.
It’s encouraging to see that Tron Evolution tries harder than most not to end up being branded an awful movie tie-in, but it still doesn’t do enough. While fans of Tron will likely get a kick out of the game’s sharp visual style and how it expands on the Tron Universe, others may be disappointed with the core gameplay and the simple disc throwing combat system.
Not only does the storyline act as a prequel to the new movie, Tron Legacy – with the action leading up to the events of that film – but also it builds effectively on the Tron Universe, revealing such snippets of information as to how Kevin Flynn got himself trapped in this digital universe in the first place. While the storyline should appeal to those familiar with Tron mythology, it’ll likely isolate those who aren’t as acquainted with the brand by failing to provide much of a back-story or context for your actions.
In short: you play the role of a security program named ‘Anon’ that was created by Kevin Flynn to stave off the threat caused by ISOs, a self-created race of programs intent on causing damage in cyber space. The story rarely drives the gameplay forward, but some sharp cut-scenes and excellent voice acting redeem it somewhat. It’s a testament to the quality script writing that we’ve played Tron Evolution without wanting to skip the cut-scenes, though part of that might be because subconsciously we just wanted to have a rest from the button-mashing combat and frustrating free-running gameplay.
Parkour features heavily in Tron Evolution. As you chain your free-running moves together and try and gain momentum around the environment, static crackles overhead and the beeps and whirs of the electronics age echo around the futuristic chambers. With Daft Punk’s pulsating electronic music banging away in the background, dancing in time to your movement, things feel pretty good, at least for a while.
Tron Evolution features two main types of gameplay: platforming and combat, though there are some RPG elements thrown in courtesy of a levelling up system and some vehicle-based sequences involving light cycles and tanks. The free-running gameplay takes up a large chunk of your time and although it has its technical flaws, impressive level design ensures that there’s plenty of static objects to use for your free-running moves, and when you smoothly chain together wall runs and link grapple moves by looking out for glowing orange objects in the environment, gameplay overall flows very nicely.
However, it’s quite an unforgiving mechanic. Press your jump button one time too many, or time a jump slightly wrong and you’ll fall to your death and have to start again – as such, things soon become a game of trial and error. Controlling ‘Anon’ reminds us of when we first tried to get to grips with moving Altair around his environment in the first Assassin’s Creed game, where he would bounce back off the walls rather than run up them because our timing was all askew. In Tron Evolution, ‘Anon’s animation is impressive as he leaps, vaults and runs at speed, but some poor camera angles combined with our hero’s annoying knack of bouncing off a wall instead of climbing up it hampers the free-flowing experience.
Typical of a platform game, you’ll often have to spend time examining your surroundings to work out a way to get to the next area, combining free-running with disc throwing to open gateways to new areas. Working out pathways through locations and then stringing together the required parkour moves to acrobatically get to the exit, is really the main highlight of an otherwise generic action adventure.
On your way from ‘A’ to ‘B,’ you’ll inevitably face a battle against enemies that have various strengths and abilities. Combat can be fun, but it lacks depth. The problem is that your only form of weapon is a disc and for the majority of time you’ll be spamming the attack button from long range to throw the disc from a safe distance and occasionally getting in close to perform melee attacks. You can block and parry back enemy discs and there’s some degree of tactical variation to be had out of the upgrade system where you can improve physical aspects of ‘Anon’ such as his speed, or enhance his weapon so it’s more powerful. Combat is fast-paced, but rarely involves more than just jumping around and wacking your attack button. Later on in the game it does get better and more exciting as you face tougher enemies where you’ll need to combine attacking and defensive maneuvers to come out on top.
Trying to keep combos running provides a bit of entertainment, but you’re barely rewarded for your efforts. Instead of XP, you earn RAM capacity for achieving objectives and killing enemies and can then head to the disk stations that are located intermittently throughout the levels. Weapon upgrades are supposed to make you feel more powerful, but we rarely felt that was the case throughout Tron Evolution. Whatever you spend your money on, you’ll still just be leaping around trying to avoid getting hit while throwing your own exhaustive supply of discs at every opportunity. This basic and accessible control scheme may appeal to those unfamiliar with this genre, but seasoned gamers seeking something more in-depth will easily get bored of the repetitive fight sequences.
The same really applies to the light cycle sections too, which look great with neon lights trailing out from behind them, and capture that feeling of speed as you race through some tough courses avoiding falling debris along the way. However, they’re severely under-utilised during the course of the game, and though you get to drive them as much as you like in the multiplayer component of Tron Evolution, the single player campaign doesn’t feature them enough. Even when it does, the game merely throws you into a generic track where you just have to steer left and right to avoid obstacles, explosions and the trails from other bikes. The light tank sections are equally as under developed, but at least there’s fun to be had out of running over enemies and smashing apart the environment with the powerful cannon.
It’s actually during these light cycle sections that PlayStation Move comes into play. Using Move to control the vehicle feels a lot more immersive than using the control pad as you tilt it up and down to change speed and is further proof that Propaganda Games has tried in some areas to make Tron Evolution stand out from the crowd and be a little different.
That ambition has succeeded somewhat in the way that Tron Evolution handles multiplayer that integrates with the single player experience. Via disc stations, which you’ll find dotted around the story mode, you can warp straight into a multiplayer game and then warp straight back and continue with the campaign. It works very well and we’ve been in and out of games quickly and smoothly with no fuss. Furthermore, the character that you’ve been developing in single player moves across to the online arena, which means that multiplayer matches are full of players that have different strengths and abilities. Ultimately, this makes battles a decidedly more tactical affair in comparison to the campaign.
Sadly, the multiplayer options are quite limited. There are four game modes that offer variations of classic deathmatch and objective-based skirmishes and four maps, two of which are large and designed for vehicle play and two smaller ones ideal for on-foot combat. The arenas aren’t very detailed and you’ll often find yourself respawning a long distance away from the action and then having to track over to help out your team-mates only to be killed after a few seconds and having to do it all over again.
However, human opposition remains unpredictable so the fight sequences are far more entertaining than in single player, and there’s satisfaction to be gained from getting revenge on someone who’s just run over you on their light cycle. And it’s online where you really do get to feel the power of these vehicles and have the freedom to zip around, knocking enemies over, or rushing to capture an energy node. The multiplayer component isn’t going to win any awards for innovation, but its close connection with the single player campaign, the tactical battles, and the chance to use the light cycles for something more than just travelling around a track with a set path, makes it a worthy addition and one worth checking out.
While it’s clear that Tron Evolution could have been a far better game if it had a more in-depth combat system and varied battles, as well as made better use of light cycles in the single player campaign, it does have its highlights. When Tron Evolution is at its very best, it’s a free-flowing game that deals with speed and movement extremely well to create some exciting and fast-paced action sequences.
However, the good times are few and far between as you wrestle with the unrefined control scheme and button-mash your way through many uninspiring battles. Eventually, even the fine futuristic backdrops end up having their downside because the limited colour palette and the regurgitation of basic structures makes a lot of the levels look very similar. We like how Tron Evolution tries harder than most to break the stigma of poor movie tie-ins, and for that it deserves kudos. However, when we think of how exciting fighting and driving light cycles around cyber space could have been, we can’t help but be disappointed.