Tron Evolution - hands-on 2.0

Two things surprised me during my recent hands-on with Tron: Evolution. First, I had a startlingly vague idea of what’s going on in the story. My memories of the 1982’s Tron have become so hazy, and in spite of combing through every trailer and even getting a recent sneak peek at a chunk of the new movie in 3D, I think I’ve subconsciously kept myself in the dark so I could experience the whole story, semi-fresh, starting with the original film once Tron: Legacy hits theaters. Part of that definitely involves Tron: Evolution, as it bridges the 20+ year gap between the films and is so steeped in Tron canon, it was like I was watching the events of the game unfold through crooked fingers just to avoid spoilers. Take a look at the new trailer, wontcha?

Disney’s kept the film’s plot tightly under wraps, but from what I can tell many of the characters in the game are rooted in Legacy. Oliva Wilde, multiple Jeff Bridges, and a handful of other characters appear fully formed in the game, but I’ll refrain from spoiling the saga any further. The second surprise I experienced in Tron: Evolution was just how pretty the game has gotten. Propaganda Studios has ironed out all the jaggies and the ENCOM mainframe has never looked so gorgeous. Evolution uses the Unreal Engine, however, the environments still stand in stark contrast to anything you’ve ever seen before. Imagine if other games removed the all their texturing and instead added veins of luminescent neon to surfaces that reflect everything immaculately, and you’ve got the ridiculously unique look of Tron: Evolution.

Yet the developers are fully aware that staring into digital blue for several hours can be boring, so not only does the pixilated plague seeping through the walls offer a visual variant on what you think you know, as the game moves along the environments take on different colors. I personally witnessed vast glowing landscapes of wonderfully jarring greens and oranges.

Discs of Tron. That ain’t just an ancient arcade game, kids, it’s also the very lifeblood to Evolution’s main character. You play as a “system monitor” created by Flynn, and the disc embedded in your back is essentially the key to everything you do. It’s a projectile, it’s a shield, it’s a grappling magnet, but more than anything it’s an actual disc, one that can be programmed with information and used to upgrade your skills as you earn more MBs (like XP) through the course of playing. That could be the most literal gaming devices in history, but it sure as hell makes for one of the most instantly understandable skill progressions of all time.

Because as much as you may’ve expected the game to be all Lightcycles, it’s actually far more similar to a modern 3D platformer along the parkour lines of Prince of Persia. (The single Lightcycle mission I did experience was pretty damned awesome, as it involved blasting down the face of a collapsing skyscraper. Oh yeah! And while we were originally told there’d be no 90 degree turns in Evolution, we’ve just been informed that the signature Tron’s maneuver has made it into the game in the final hour!) Much like the activated nodes in 2008’s PoP, your disc can interact with certain objects to pull you up to otherwise unreachable surfaces and even yank an enemy or two during the capoeira-inspired fights.

You can equip different discs with the D-Pad, and each comes with numerous ways to “de-res” enemies with specific combos and abilities. Some discs have better range, superior strength, and hell, some even explode! Plus, the same button used to run and execute all that wall-jumping acrobatic trickery can also be used to unleash even more combative variations. That and the perry/block/counter system conjured pleasant memories of Assassin’s Creed for me.

I didn’t get to jump in any multiplayer, but I certainly find the interface intriguing. The same stations you’ll find throughout the game to upgrade you Disc’s abilities also acts as a portal to online play. Better still, you can jump online and play as long as you want - earning XP to your single player profile all the while - and hop out to exactly where you entered multiplayer. Not only is your progress unharmed, it’s perfect for bulking up for the more difficult boss encounters. But perhaps best of all, once you enter the online Game Grid you can fight bots until people arrive. Much like Bayonetta, I love it when games economize load times to so you can practice combos and other skills.

True to its name and legacy, Tron’s bringing a little evolution to the medium once again. For diehard fans, Tron: Evolution probably warrants a purchase sight unseen, but the brisk single player still has a lot in store for newcomers before and after seeing the new film. The impending Tron renaissance is headed our way at the end of this month so don’t say we didn’t prepare you.

Nov 12, 2010