Not every video game has to be perfect or original to be a winner; some can succeed simply by being well-made and straightforwardly enjoyable. Tron: Evolution is one such game.
Developed by Propaganda Games and released for the Xbox 360 as well as the PS3 and PC in 2010, Evolution was made to tie-in with the 2010 film Tron: Legacy, though it takes place before the events of its filmic counterpart. For a tie-in product it is surprisingly successful and, while imperfect and not offering much new, makes for a polished and fun experience.
The one thing its parent film received much praise for, its visual style and artwork, is also done well in the crossover. The dark, metallic and neon-accented colour scheme is perfectly recreated in Evolution, which seems to go one better in making these stylized environments feel immersive, organic and habitable.
Controlling the game’s playable character – who is unnamed, never speaks and never shows his face – will evoke feelings of Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed – both clear influences on Tron: Evolution. The playable character is able to perform all of the same acrobatics and parkour-style moves in a way that doesn’t feel derivative but is definitely fun.
This unnamed Program (the noun for inhabitants of the Game Grid of Tron) gets caught up in the assassination of a leader of a group of Programs and has to save the Grid from virus character Abraxus, who has the ability to corrupt characters and the Grid itself.
That’s the gist of a highly convoluted plot that those who aren’t deep into Tron lore would find confusing. For those who aren’t, the good news is that the story does not swamp gameplay; Tron: Evolution is able to accommodate all players however deep into the lore they want to go.
As well as platforming across the minutely detailed landscapes, there’s also a lot of combat with plenty of different enemies to beat. The Program has just one weapon to defeat the enemies – his Identity Disc – which acts like a frisbee that returns after damaging an enemy – and with enough hits causes them to shatter and disappear, or in the game’s terminology, “derez”.
To begin with the disc just takes health from enemies, but with progress different ones unlock – there are discs that put enemies in a slow motion state, others that blow them up; each has its own special moves. This adds a lot of variation and depth to combat, as well as the added skill of certain discs affecting different enemies more. Working out which disc works best with which class of opponent is the key.
The best part of the game is also the coolest thing about Tron – Light Cycles. These futuristic high-speed bikes get a look-in and are the best carbon copy from screen to game: they blast at speed, are agile enough to cleanly and smoothly avoid enemy fire, and leave a solid trail that derezes any enemy that crosses it.
Riding Light Cycles is every bit as fun as would be expected, though the same can’t be said of the Light Tanks, which are the same except, well, tanks. These sections aren’t as much fun as the tanks are more cumbersome to control, can’t move very far, and firing on targets isn’t as satisfying.
There may be nothing new here, but far more thought has gone into Tron: Evolution than would normally be expected from a film tie-in. It’s made with a lot of conviction and admiration for the source material, all of its mechanics work well, and while it can frustrate at times it is a lively and cool console experience.
Ten years ago, of all the versions released, the Xbox 360 version was the best-received, though none sold very well. In fact, its sales saw Disney close down Propaganda Games. The fact that the game will become more and more scarce is one reason to now seek it out; another being that the Xbox 360 edition is one of the last versions of the game that works now the PC edition is no longer compatible due to expired rights. The biggest reason of all, though, is that Tron: Evolution is an unabashedly fun ride.