Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Review: TRON Evolution

Platform: PS3 (also on Xbox 360, PC*)

Developer: Propaganda Games

Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios

# of Players: 1 (online 1 - 8)

ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Official Site

Score: B

As licensed movie games go, TRON: Evolution does a pretty good job of bringing gamers into its world as a mostly enjoyable experience that while not a masterpiece, has some pretty cool elements going for it. It's not the usual licensed title that repeats the movie experience, but a bridge between the 1982 original and the new sequel (TRON: Legacy) that you may want to play BEFORE you see the movie. Enjoying the game fully requires a bit of knowledge (and yes, nostalgia) about the original's film's plot and characters, but you can complete it without knowing who's who. However, If you just want a new action game to play and go in cold with no intentions to see either film, the story might seem weak and hard to follow in spots. On the other hand, if you're a fan of the original and have seen (or plan to see) the new film, what's here does a solid job of updating and expanding while making you want more in the process. There's also the kernel of a great MMO experience here, should Disney decide to allow the developer to add to what's here and take the game further in future installments.

In the offline story mode, gameplay is a mix of on foot platforming and fast-paced combat, zippy light cycle sections and tank battle sequences that slow things down somewhat, but still pack a punch in terms of stuff blowing up every few seconds. The platforming and fighting revolve around parkour and capoeira-based moves, a take it or leave it game design choice that makes some areas really easy and some really frustrating. All I'll suggest is you use the newest controller you have to play the game, as some of the parkour-based running sections an be a pain if you have an analog stick that's not 100% responsive. There's a great deal of wall running where you need to deftly flick the left stick from side to side as you bounce from wall to wall. Let up for even a breath and you're derezzed and sent back to that last checkpoint (which generally isn't too far away).

While the levels look huge and are quite spectacularly detailed (it's subtle, but it's definitely there), you're pretty much led around through them in a very linear fashion. As you learn a few new disc or parkour-based moves, the game drops segments in where you get to pull off those moves, often in rapid succession in order to get from low to high ground. Combat is fast and as long as you're whipping out the combos and reading the quick descriptions of enemy weaknesses, you'll do fine. Some "boss" type enemies in the game are a bit tougher if you're not paying attention (the first tank you face off against or any enemy with long range attacks and a shield, for example), but unless you crank the difficulty up, none of them should give you much trouble.

There's a RPG-like leveling system that awards you Megabytes that you can spend on upgrades at special terminals scattered throughout the story mode. As this level system is persistent, you can take your leveled character into the online mode and have at it against live players or bots for a bit, then hop back into the story and earn some more MB to spend. This made me wish the game world was a lot more open with other things to do, as the story can be completed in around 8 -10 hours if you take your time, die a few more times in the trickier portions and watch all the cut scenes. Granted, everyone has a different play style, skill level and so forth and so on, so some players will see the end sooner, while others will be wanting to jump up and down on their controllers after a few too many missed wall-runs.

It's really amusing to imagine a younger "core" gamer and non-TRON fan jumping into Evolution with overly lofty expectations of a blockbuster game experience that's going to knock their socks off and send them flying around the room. Propaganda Games has whipped up a game with great visuals (don't let the muted color palette fool you one bit) that those who recall the original will nod and smile at. The detail may seem plain and dull to those "expecting" something close to "reality", but this is how us old folks who saw the original recall what The Grid should look like. Sure, there's a lot more high-rises and expensive-looking furniture, a new (eek) "rave" club (complete with Bowie-esque entrepreneur) and a few other luxuries since we were last sucked in. But hell, that's what happens when you leave the old neighborhood for too long. Sometimes stuff changes.

But of course, this is TRON, so those deadly Discs, Recognizers, Tanks and Light Cycles we all know and loved are here and very nicely rendered, I might add.
As I can remember seeing the first TRON about eight or nine times in theaters and a few more when it hit cable, I love the visuals here. For someone who recalls the somewhat corny (but groundbreaking back then) "digital" effects in the original, seeing how Propaganda managed to update familiar elements while adding new ones was great. The color palette gets a boost as the story progresses, but the game's visual style absolutely stays true to the Tron, er... legacy. If you still need another point of reference, just think of how The Matrix films used certain colors to represent the virtual world they presented and you get the idea.

The sound design is fine with updated effects and some very cool music. Sadly, only a few of the film's Daft Punk tracks made it into the game, but the rest of the tunes have a nice mix of retro and modern influences that keep the action flowing. The voice acting is solid with Olivia Wilde and Bruce Boxleitner reprising their roles from the film. The actor doing the Jeff Bridges sound-alike performance is fine and overall, the game does a pretty decent job of immersing you into the world Propaganda has created on the disc. On the other hand, while the character models look great in their shiny gear, the faces all look a little too "virtual". Then again, these aren't "real" people you're interacting with, so it's actually a bit amusing to gripe about the way they look compared to other games.

As I don't have a 3D TV, I can't comment on how good the effect looks in the final version. You can probably imagine where the 3D effect should look great (light cycle sections and some of the platforming where loads of background depth is present) Playstation Move support is here for the light cycle sections and while it works, it's actually not necessary to enjoy those parts of the game. I'm personally not a fan of games where you need multiple peripherals to play when one would do, but hats off to Propaganda for squeezing in Move support for those who want it. Still, I think a few more months in the oven would have helped the game in terms of additional polish.

Online play is mostly based around arena challenges and everyone loves those light cycle battles, particularly since they're closer to those found in the original film. In the main game, you're blazing away from Recognizers and other light cycles, throwing discs around, making jumps onto destroyed roadways and generally trying not to fly off the road in timed sections. Online, it's basically a lightning paced game of Snakes with a dash of Chicken thrown in for good measure. As noted above, what's here is fine and works well enough, but it really feels more like a template for a much more involving online and offline experience. As new DLC has been released since the game launch and it looks as if more is on the way, I'm hoping the TRON franchise gets a second life (har har) as some sort of mash-up of online and offline gameplay that goes beyond the films and what gamers "expect" a licensed game to be.

Overall, while not the best licensed game this year, TRON: Evolution is a decent enough reboot and worth a look (even as a rental) if you're a huge fan of the original film who wants to hop in and see what's been happening since you last camped out in front of your TV (or local theater). Given that there's an animated TRON TV series in the works and it's only a matter of time before Disney re-releases the original on Blu-Ray with some fancy enhancements (and the sequel will hit stores much sooner and no doubt in 3D), it's pretty much a no-brainer that we'll be seeing more TRON games in the not too distant future.

Note: the Wii, DS and PSP versions of T:E are significantly different game experiences

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