Nick's Gaming Blog

Tron Evolution Review

Hey everybody, I’m back!!! It would appear that at least most of the crap I had to worry about for Graduate School has been submitted, so I’ve at least got a reasonable amount of time to post on here.

At least, that would appear to be the situation.

Anyway, figured I’d take some time to shake off the “gamin’ rust” (sounds like a nineteenth century name for an STD, doesn’t it?) and talk about the game that, at the very least, deserves an award for the only game case shiny enough that I can actually see a reflection of my face in it.

I kid you not.

Part of me has seriously wondered just how much of the funding for said title went into box art.

On that note, if you’re looking for a makeshift Medusa gaze deflection device, Tron Evolution will deliver, if not in spades.

If, however, you’re looking for a rip-roarin’, neon-illuminating, “two Jeff Bridges for the price of one” adventure, Tron Evolution might not be your man err…game.

Just what is Tron Evolution, other than a perfect way to continually screw up the title of said game with that of the accompanying film, Tron: Legacy? (I did this habitually for a process of at least two months straight) Well, the developers at Propaganda Games (they did the 2008 semi-decent revival of the Turok franchise) decided to follow “the Riddick route” as I’ve coined it. By that, I mean that they’ve constructed a narrative that exists before the accompanying media (a film, in both the Riddick and Tron scenarios) explaining the events up to the point of the focal media object in question. This of course allows for the studio to utilize the franchise and the film’s assets while having narrative freedom (to a certain extent) of not having to follow the story of the film to a tee. Obviously, this allows for films that were violent, perhaps, but not combat-heavy, to have a game that is such.

If Tron Looked half as cool as this concept art, we wouldn't have a problem. Well...we'd still have a problem...that being that things were just TOO epic to handle.

Now, to elaborate, I will have to spoil (or for those nitpickers, who would claim that I could do this spoiler-free, I’ve chosen to spoil stuff, so…too bad) a wee bit of the narrative of Tron Legacy. Also, I should mention that I haven’t seen Tron for a LOOOOONG time, so I’m a bit sketchy on that. (Nervously looks at all of that rambling) Anyway, so remember the ISOs from Legacy? You know, the organisms that were a “miracle” that showed up in Kevin Flynn’s creation, without his doing? If you forgot, remember the embodiment of sexiness that was Olivia Wilde…as that probably stayed with you much longer than the background information on her race/species/whatever. Near the beginning of Legacy we discover that Mr. Flynn is an unwitting citizen of The Grid for years thanks to his “wonder twin” CLU, and his only compatriot is Quorra, the sole remaining ISO. Of course, the film doesn’t delve into CLU’s rise to power, or just how the ISOs were overwhelmingly wiped out, so for those of you who left the film with these unanswered questions (and let me say, all of you are geeks…and that I had them as well) that’s what the game seeks to address.

For those of you who aren’t now unconsciously harboring a latex fetish, or wondering how you and I might find a way to get sexy ladies to leap out of our respective computers…there’s this game. Now you might already be wondering, “Just who do you play as?” That’s a relevant question, considering that Sam Flynn didn’t know about the existence of The Grid, his dad’s too old for all the acrobatic stuff, and Quorra is a woman…or at least the digital equivalent of such. I kid, I kid…but sadly, we all know how many games feature powerful female protagonists that don’t have a rack with its own gravitational pull. Here Evolution borrowed from the Halo mantra that the player is clearly more immersed in the title when their character refuses to ever remove their helmet. Apparently the Halo rule for survival is the exact converse of Gears of War, where a helmet is merely an invitation to an untimely death…but I digress. Anyway, ‘the creator” Kevin Flynn wrote a system monitor program (ie, you) named Anon to assist Tron in controlling the tensions between Basics and ISOs. I’m not sure exactly how all of this went down, but I do imagine it went something like this:

Flynn: Here, wear this super reflective helmet. Don’t ever take it off or talk, especially the talking part.

Anon: Aren’t people going to be confused when Rinzler wears a similar helmet in Tron: Legacy?

Flynn: Umm…just shut up.

Anon: And what about naming me an abbreviated form of Anonymous? Do you know what that does for the ego?

Flynn: *sigh* Tron was never a whiny bitch…I guess we all can’t be perfect right?…now I’m going to go make a poor life decision and clone myself.

Investigating tensions between computer programs? “Sign me up this instant,” you shout. We all know what that means though, a cracking of binary skulls is in order, and you’re just the man err…program for the job. Combat, an impressive martial dance in Legacy, loses most of that “Awe factor” in Evolution. The game relies on a normal/special/melee/block/counter attack paradigm that we’ve all seen before in most “paint by numbers” hack and slash titles. Even worse, Evolution attempts to reach for something deeper by offering up a semi-lengthy combo list…even though you’re only taught two or three of these during the tutorial sequence, and can easily skate through the remainder of the title on these moves alone. You simply learn quickly that either you fight at a distance, or you die. While on the topic of one’s digital mortality, it suffices to say that Anon’s durability closely mirrors that of those in the films…and that’s not a good thing. Leave yourself open to one or two blows, and it’ll probably be “reboot time.” Most of the game will develop in this fashion:

1. Throw a couple charged rings at a distance, do a wee bit of damage.

2. Enemies close in, you quickly mash your special move until you’re out of energy and your health is low

3. You retreat, clinging for life, and praying you can limp to one of the glow-y bars on the wall to recharge your health before someone derezzes you in the back.

4. Run around the room, picking up special move energy, then repeat the process.

“But what about the disc upgrades,” you ask, adjusting your nerdy glasses.

Meet Anon. He doesn't say anything. He never removes that helmet. He just kills stuff. The end

It’s true, there are the heavy, bomb, stasis, and corruption disc upgrades, each providing the player with three different special attacks…in theory. However, they basically serve the same three functions: a long range attack that targets a single enemy, a slow “ground pound” that hits multiple enemies but requires you to be immobile when performing, and a “drive-by” speedy variant that appears to be a compromise of the two. However, you don’t control the order in which you receive the upgrades, and the point at which you receive said gifts varies heavily on whether you’ve hopped between online and offline play at all, or if you’ve sat around in some of the areas to fight off respawning foes. Simply put, they’re linked to one’s level (or “version,” as the game has “cleverly” renamed the term) and not storyline or plot progression…and this means you could pick them up long before they’re actually useful (thankfully though, I think the game has at least taken heed to ensure you don’t end up fighting specialized foes without having the right tools). On top of this, the “Corruption” and “Stasis” upgrades show up in the final quarter of the game, and are for all intents and purposes, useless. Of course, they could arrive earlier in the game if you play online in the “Game Grid” and might serve a greater purpose there, but in single player they only expedite your arrival at the Restart screen.

Outside of combat, the remainder of the game falls into two modes: some light (get it, “light”?…because of like, the lightcycles…ughh) vehicle segments, and a “poor man’s Prince of Persia” parkour inspired platforming. Except the controls aren’t as well mapped as PoP, and without a time/Elika mechanism you’ll find your missteps and blunders into the binary abyss aren’t as easily retractable as you’d like. Perhaps the 2008 reboot of Prince of Persia was a wee bit too “sticky” with your ability to latch onto things within even a general range of your character, but you’ll be begging for that when your wallrunning still has you “coming up short” seven or eight times in a row.

The parkour also suffers from its desire to go on auto-pilot when you initiate certain animations. Accidentally begin scaling the wall just to the right of the health pad? Instead of being able to easily cut the animation short, Evolution will frequently finish the scaling animation until you’re at least a story off the ground, and you’ve opened your clearly ailing self to more punishment. There’s just a general sloppiness with the platforming that can’t be overlooked, no matter how frequent the checkpoints are placed. In general, you’ll be so frustrated with the unexpected cheap deaths you’ll encounter that you won’t bother attempting to explore for Evolution’s padding “find ‘em all” item, background files, for fear of gliding off more ledges.

Tron's lightcycles serve one purpose, to attempt to purge the player's mind of the sheer terror that is the platforming.

Vehicle sections are divvied up between light tank destruction missions and light cycle racing ones, let’s tackle the latter first. When one thinks of light cycles (or is it “lightcycles” I’m really not sure, nor do I feel motivated to look it up) we usually associate them with racing or the death-dealing ribbon of brutality that streams behind them. Yet Evolution, aside from one “race against the clock” to make it back to a city in time, ignores both elements. Instead, we’re handed your typical object evasion sequence, with a simple auto-targeting system for throwing discs, and not much more.  Did I mention the wonderful double standard that is the fact that while you can take damage from other biker’s light trails, nobody can really fall into yours?  Granted, this is probably a camera angle logistics issue, but I was really looking forward to reenact said sequence from the films.

As for the tank sequences, they’re simple, explosion-filled, and for the most part, free of the stupid deaths that plague the remainder of the title (light cycle sequences included).  Move tank into next area, run over infantry, blow up tanks of the red-hued variety, rinse, repeat.  Sure, the thing is clunky to control at moments, but, people…it’s a tank for gosh sake!  If anything, they serve as a cathartic experience to purge the lackluster gameplay that the remainder of the game serves up.

Now that we’ve covered the story that might interest you, and the gratingly-average (and occasionally, not even that) gameplay, we probably should touch on the visuals and the music.  It bears mention that only “The Grid” and “Derezzed” by Daft Punk make their way into Evolution, though, surprisingly, the remainder of the music is quite serviceable and gels well with the French duo’s film score.  Voice acting is a mixed-bag, however.  As you might expect, Propaganda Games managed to snag one or two of the film’s actors, Olivia Wilde and Bruce Boxleitner (the original Tron) into working on the game.  However, Tron’s only got two or three lines to deliver in the entire game (those who’ve seen the movie understand just why his appearance is short-lived) and Olivia Wilde’s turn as Quorra mostly just bookends the game.  While Wilde’s performance isn’t exactly “phone-in” bad, it’s not exactly award-winning.  In the end, it just comes across as “name-dropping” in the effort to give the appearance of a trans-media production.

Aroused or terrified? *Pause* I'm going with terrified.

Visually, Evolution somehow manages to be greater than the sum of its parts.  Character models mostly look the part, but the faces run the gamut from fairly accurate/caricatures to downright bad.  Specifically, Kevin Flynn and Tron depict the likenesses of Bridges and Boxleitner well…but the attempt to give Quorra the pale look she sports in the films looks like Casper in a cropped black wig.  Does that mean I didn’t still ogle it?  No, I did.  But I thought twice about it before going through with it.  The world of Tron itself is quite impressive at first, the aesthetic is certainly present…but the neon blue and orange wears thin by about chapter 3.  Sure, they try to “mix things up” with a neon green level and a certain costume alteration for Anon in the final level, but I think you (being a smart and observant fellow/lady) won’t fall for it either.

Overall, Evolution is an interesting experiment that furthers this notion of trans-media creations, and among movie tie-in titles, it’s actually not bad.  Yet even this statement isn’t too promising for two reasons: movie tie-ins have improved drastically in the past two or three years (only because they’ve found a workable formula) and movie tie-ins…are still movie tie-ins.  In a way, it’s almost as if Propaganda Games simply knew they had an aesthetic style to nail, as that would be the initial impression by which they would be judged, and after that, they just had to create an intense game of cyber intermural ultimate frisbee.  If anything else, there is a lesson to be learned from Evolution, and other movie tie-ins: if you’ve got some tight deadlines to meet, don’t burden yourself with adding on a multiplayer mode.  Unless your name happens to rhyme with Call of Duty or Halo, your servers will be a digital wasteland within a month.  Focus on creating a quality campaign, and that’s enough for a fair amount of us gamers.

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