Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Propaganda Games
System requirements: Intel Pentium D 3.00 GHz or Athlon 64 X2 3800+ or better CPU, 1 GB RAM (XP)/1.5 GB (Vista/Win 7); GeForce 8800 GT or Radeon HD 3870 or better graphics card
ESRB rating: Teen
Release date: Available now
“In a world where the sun never shines, and the streets glow in neon colors…” Ok, sorry. I thought I’d dust off my inner Don LaFontaine for this one, since Tron: Evolution is a direct movie tie-in. More specifically, it’s a sequel to both the Tron: Betrayal graphic novel and the Tron: Evolution – Battle Grids game for the Nintendo Wii and DS, and a prequel to the Tron: Legacy movie. Because some of you might not have seen the movie yet, I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, but a little background is necessary.
The game’s story starts with a video of Kevin Flynn talking about the appearance of ISOs (Isomorphic Algorithms), programs with free will that have emerged spontaneously on the Grid. The ISOs are disliked by the Basics, programs created by users for a specific purpose, whose free will is somewhat constrained by their primary directives. One of the leaders of the ISOs was recently killed on the Game Grid, and Flynn suspects it was a deliberate conspiracy to commit murder by one of the Basics. He creates a new system monitor program called Anon (short for Anonymous) to investigate. This is where you come in. You take the role of Anon, who is simply called “Monitor” by the other programs. One of your first tasks is to pursue a virus program calling itself Abraxas that is corrupting the system. Along the way, you meet other programs that play a key role in the movie (Clu, Zuse, and Quorra to name a few), and get swept up into an even bigger conspiracy.
The story is broken down into seven chapters, which include elements of platforming (jumping and wall-running) with combat sections. Of course, you get to drive a Light Cycle a few times; you even get to jump behind the controls of a Light Tank at least twice. There are objects in the game world that you can run on to regain health, or the energy needed to use some of your special attacks. If you get derezzed (killed), Flynn has thoughtfully seen to it that you are recompiled and re-inserted into the Grid at the last checkpoint you passed; the game does not allow you to save anywhere. If you have to quit, you can later resume at the last checkpoint. As you go along, you gain XP from derezzing enemies, completing objectives, and picking up datafiles and Abraxas disc fragments, which give you more detail on the characters you meet and more insight into how Abraxas came into existence. When you gain enough XP, your version number increases; the maximum you can reach is version 50. Additional memory is also made available to you, to install subroutines that upgrade your maximum health and energy and improve your combat abilities.
Perhaps the most innovative feature of the game, however, is the ability to temporarily leave the single-player game at an Upgrade Station and jump to a multiplayer game grid. There are four different maps, with more available as DLC, and four modes: “Disintegration” (free-for-all Deathmatch), “Team Disintegration” (team Deathmatch), “Bit Runner” (capture the flag), and “Power Monger” (similar to Capture the Nodes in Unreal Tournament). If you don’t have a Games for Windows Live online account, you compete with nine computer-controlled opponents and/or allies; if you do have an online account, you can compete against other people, with extra spots filled in by the computer. The largest maps allow you to use Light Cycles or Light Tanks; the game modes don’t change, only the style of combat. Once your multiplayer match is complete, you jump right back to the single-player game where you left off, along with any XP you earned on the Game Grids.
Fans of the Tron series will enjoy the authentic look and feel of the game as compared to the movie. With the exception of Jeff Bridges (who played Kevin Flynn in the movie), the developer has brought in the actors from the movie to provide the in-game voices for their characters. The music, unfortunately, was not composed by Daft Punk (who wrote the entire soundtrack for the movie), but has the appropriate ambiance; besides, while you’re busy playing the game, you won’t be spending much time thinking about the music. There are a few problems with the game, though. The controls are probably best suited for a gamepad; if you’re playing with keyboard and mouse, some of the platforming sections can be a bit awkward, because you have to press two or even three keys at once. My poor pinkie finger got sore from holding down Left Shift so much. In their defense, though, the programmers did try to put all the keys where you could comfortably reach them with your left hand, and my hands are a bit on the small side. People with longer fingers might have less difficulty. The other major problem is that the combat starts to feel repetitive after a while, and it’s probably for this reason that I found the story less compelling than it could have been.
Overall, though, the game manages to convey the same ambiance and feeling of authenticity as the movie does, and as far as licensed movie tie-in games go, this one stands out from the crowd. Story-wise, some people might find it even better than the movie. It’s got at least one innovative feature, specifically the ability to go from single-player to multiplayer and back again, with XP intact; I haven’t seen that in any other game I’ve played. Even though its flaws are relatively minor, Tron: Evolution just doesn’t do enough to rise beyond “good” into the realm of “exceptional,” but it’s still well worth playing, and for Tron fans, it’s a must-have.