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Tron: Evolution
Score: 68%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Developer: Propaganda Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 10 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
Tron: Legacy is a great videogame of a movie and, fittingly, Tron: Evolution is a good movie of a videogame. The story is one of the few reasons to endure the shaky mechanics. I'd even go so far as to say the game's plot was more interesting than the one presented in the movie. Yes, there are great moments tucked away in some areas, but they are never satisfying enough to pull you into the experience.

There's no denying Tron: Evolution's style. Propaganda has done an amazing job of capturing the look and sound of the movie, right down to the inclusion of two Daft Punk tracks from the movie. The visuals do just as good a job expanding on the Tron universe as the plot. That said, visuals suffer from a sense of sameness. True, there isn't much in the way of variety in Tron to begin with, but it's easy to get lost in the sea of shiny blacks and neon glows.

At least the level geometry offers something different. Everything looks the same, but thankfully I didn't get turned around as much as I originally thought. If anything, I had a hard time figuring out where to go next. Levels are a linear, directed experience with colored arrows usually lighting your path. Still, there were moments where the paths didn't look like they matched up (usually on wall runs) or the orb I was supposed to attach to was just off screen.

Get used to seeing the System Monitor derez, but before he does, you're usually treated to some incredible acrobatic feats. You'll fall, but at least it's with style. You'll also get to spend time with a faithfully modeled Olivia Wilde (Wilde also provides Quorra's voice) and Fred Tatasciore's impressive stand-in job for Jeff Bridges.


Gameplay:
Tron: Evolution is reminiscent of 2008's Prince of Persia, but without the polish. Gameplay is based around free-running platforming sections dotted with serviceable combat sections. It's a great idea, especially for the re-imagined world of Tron: Legacy, but nothing ever comes together the way it should. Sections feel cobbled together. Some areas feature a great flow-through and are ideal for the type of quick, context-sensitive running and jumping. However, these areas are bridged by sections of clunky combat and numerous bottomless pits. For every "Oh, Cool!" moment, there's at least five frustrating areas. These areas are so numerous they begin to erode the cool moments. Soon "Oh, Cool!" becomes "Good... finally."

For all the frustration the gameplay introduces, the plot does a great job of building up the Tron universe while filling gaps from Tron: Legacy. Tron: Evolution takes place in the span of time between the two films. Kevin Flynn has taken up residency in the Grid and, along with Clu and Tron, is attempting to build a perfect system. Flynn's plans are foiled when the leader of the Isos, non-programs who've shown up in the grid, dies. Flynn suspects murder and dispatches a System Monitor program to investigate. To further complicate issues, a virus, Abraxas, shows up and begins corrupting programs.

In addition to acrobatic platform sections and sporadic combat, you'll also jump into light cycles and light tanks for a few missions. Light cycles are the better of the two sequences, if only because you're driving a light cycle. Unfortunately, these sequences rarely evolve beyond you running away from something. This is cool the first time, but gets stale. This, however, is true for most of Evolution's play mechanics.

Light tank sequences are terrible and serve only as a means to get you from one section of the Grid to another. The tank is hard to control, slow and manages to suck most of the fun out of blowing things up with a big cannon.

Beyond story, multiplayer is one of the few reasons to play Evolution. You can compete in numerous games on the Grid, including light cycle races. The thrill of squaring off against other players in light cycles races more than makes up for the vehicles' disappointing showing in single player.


Difficulty:
I really like the way character progression is handled. You'll gain experience for defeating enemies. Amass enough experience and you can upgrade the Monitor's version number, unlocking new abilities. You can snag new combat upgrades, as well as system updates like more health or energy. The system isn't anything new, but Tron: Evolution is one of the few games outside Fallout 3 where buying updates actually felt like a big decision. This may be an unintentional by-product of the shaky gameplay, but at times, I second-guessed going for one option over another.

It's disappointing that this sort of choice doesn't carryover into gameplay situations. Levels are incredibly linear and never force the player to make tough decisions about how to tackle problems. There's little freedom in the free running and combat forces you to stick to a standard strategy. It's the sort of thing you'd expect to see in a game from the 80's, only without any sort of anticipatory problem solving. There's a strategy, but the game is doing everything it can to prevent you from carrying it out -- including hint at what that strategy might be.

The fight with the light tank is a perfect example. It's clear there's a way you're supposed to defeat the tank. However, when you try to beat it, you're slammed with a cheap one-hit cannon that you can never shake. If you try to jump anywhere on the tank except for where you're supposed to, you immediately derez. A later boss isn't much better. He just jumps around the area carpet-bombing the place with grenades.


Game Mechanics:
Issues with platforming are the result of several little breakdowns rather than one massive, fixable issue. The first, and biggest, issue is the lack of weight. The Monitor doesn't run across surfaces; he glides from place to place. There's just a lack of "crunch" to the control stick. It feels loose and slippery. As a result, there's no sense of momentum, which is mandatory for parkour-style gameplay to work properly. At times, it almost feels like you're running too fast. You'll hit a wall at what seems like the correct speed and angle, only to miss it or lose your footing on the rebound.

Jumps require near-expert timing. Adding to the frustration, there's no in-game assistance going on to help nudge maneuvers. The first few areas presented in the tutorial look incredible and are well designed. If you want a great example of the game Tron: Evolution could be, check out the first hour. After that, the repeated falls because of ever-so-slight variances in approach angle add up. It would be great if the camera at least attempted to offer some help, but it tends to go for a cool angle, not the more playable angle.

Health and energy refills require near-perfect acrobatic timing as well. Rather than grabbing a power-up widget, you're forced to find energy transfer spots to refuel. Cool idea, but most of these are on the wall and require a perfect run if you want to hit them. Topping off on energy is easier (they're on the ground), but sometimes the contextual icon doesn't pick up quick enough.

Most issues stem from a combat system that isn't quite sure where it wants to go. Sometimes it feels like the game is going for button-mashing; other times, it feels like finesse is the way to go. Neither feels right. I like some of what the combat system is trying to accomplish. Most enemies have a strategic weakness you're encouraged to exploit to defeat them. Unfortunately, "exploit" translates to "spam like crazy." You can't do this. Special moves are regulated by energy, and it's not possible to keep refilling. This leaves you with the option of using normal attacks, only you won't do as much damage and have to fight with a jittery camera.

Move support is basic and not a good representation of what the controller can offer. During light cycle segments, you can hold the Move like handlebars. As neat of an idea as it is, it's slippery and doesn't fit with the precision light cycles require.

Tron: Evolution caps off a common problem I've noticed throughout 2010. There are some really good ideas at play and the game is headed in a positive direction. But numerous smaller issues trip up any forward momentum. Loose controls, problematic camera, and repetitive action... it all adds up on the end. At best, Tron: Evolution is a rental if you want to check out the story, though only hardcore Tron fans will be able to endure the gameplay issues and make it through to the end.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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