When the original 1982 TRON movie hit theater screens, it had some cool-for-the-day aspects but wasn't a huge hit. It did, however, spawn a groundbreaking game that you just had to play if you were a gaming guy or gal of the day. It was a black light-glowing arcade favorite that actually earned more money, quarter by quarter, than the film did in its initial release.
So let's face it, any new TRON game today—especially since it would have the advantage of almost 30 years of tech improvement—better have its neon-piped ducks all in a row. And, well, TRON: Evolution at least tries.
TRON of Past and Anon
This movie tie-in game swoops us down inside the goings-on of the Grid world—where programs walk around as people—and it attempts to bridge the gap between the 1980s and 2010s. That means it fills us in on what actually imprisoned programmer Kevin Flynn inside his own computer.
As TRON types know, the in-computer Grid begins to create its own independent programs called ISOs (isomorphic algorithms). That unexpected evolutionary event has some of the Kevin Flynn-created programs a little upset. In fact, Flynn's second-in-command doppelgänger Clu is blowing sparks about the change. On top of that, a new computer virus—complete with a bad guy leader named Abraxas—is starting to gum up the works. And Flynn just wants to calm the tensions before everything blows up.
Gamers don't play as Flynn, though. They charge around in the form of a security protocol he's created called Anon—a voiceless and faceless avatar that lets his wall-running moves and explosive light disc do all the talking.
And that's pretty much all the storyline you need to know.
Run, Fight and Ride Your Bike
You no longer look down on the action from a bird's-eye view as in the old game. Instead, you're fully immersed in a 3-D, neon-lit environment. (It's reported that early 3-D TV adopters get an even bigger dimensional boost.) Anon's MO is running around with a lot of Prince of Persia-style parkour acrobatics that propel him from level to level as he zips up circuit walls, leaps over terminals and grapples with energy orbs.
There are a few segments that incorporate the light cycles and tanks that are both showcase elements of the movies and the original game. TRON: Evolution gives us a much closer and graphically impressive view of these iconic vehicles. Unfortunately the gameplay doesn't really keep pace with them. Or, frankly, even with the old arcade game. In single-player mode, the light cycles are relegated to chase or escape sequences. And the clunky tanks, while cool to look at, are ho-hum at best when it comes to what they do.
If you jump into the online multiplayer mode, with its deathmatches and flag-capture games, you can find more of that old-school outmaneuvering challenge and strategic battling—mixed with the new digital coolness. But that fast-paced free-for-all play can quickly get very hectic for the less seasoned gamer. Not to mention the unregulated online communications (read: swearing) that can mar a young player's experience.
Outside of the few vehicle sequences, the majority of the combat in Evolution is a mix between up-close melee attacks and tossed-from-a-distance light disc throws. There are several different disc powers earned along the way. A heavy disc, for example, is a slow attack but really delivers the power punch, while the bomb disc lets the Frisbee-like circle burst into several small fragments which explode and smack large groups.
We Need Flynn
That sounds pretty dangerous. But defeated program foes fall and de-rez—which is essentially a crumbling into little bit-like particles—with no blood or mess. And there's really no other mess on hand, either.
In the game itself, the worst of the very infrequent language is "d‑‑n" and the joke phrase "son of a glitch." One female character's costume shows off some of her stomach.
So what do you get when TRON evolves? Well, you get a game that at least tries to be faithful to the original. A game that fans will favor for its references to the first pic. A game that at least tries to be clean. A game that's full of visually impressive panache. You also get a game, though, that's a little less fun than you'd hoped. Maybe they should have called in Mr. Flynn for a few more programming ideas.