Even though Tron holds a special place in the hearts of nerds everywhere, the games that have tried to build on the fiction of the visionary 1982 film haven’t been successful at capturing its glowing neon energy.
That could all change with Tron: Evolution and the reason for that is the way that Disney and British developer Propaganda Games are approaching the game. While 2003’s Tron 2.0 tried to reference the canon of the movie, it didn’t have the proximity to officially sanctioned Tron lore to really make it stick. This time, Disney views Evolution as a core part of the Tron mythos and is using the game to show how the virtual landscape deteriorated to the state seen in Legacy. And the game will show several areas that the movie doesn’t. T:E bridges the gap between the original Tron movie and the upcoming Tron Legacy, Evolution puts players control the character of Anon, an AI created by Flynn to investigate a massive virus that’s tearing the grid apart.
I came into the Evolution demo dubious but was impressed at the level of polish it’s showing well before launch. The game’s structured as a third-person action game, with heavy platforming elements. Anon’s movement style combine elements of parkour/free running and capoeira and he’ll be leaping and scaling the walls of the gridworld like a neon-&-black Prince of Persia. The disc combat moved along in brisk fashion and came off as far more brutal than I was expecting. When the digital bad guys discorporated into bits of data, it really felt like something violent was happening to them. Anon will wield four kinds of discs: bomb, heavy, corruption and stasis. Stasis lets him levitate and had a slowdown effect, bomb blows stuff up and so on. Anon will also be able to shift between various states–defense, sprint, and combo–which all create new functions for the four disc types. Any upgrades you earn in the single-player game will be available in online play and multiplayer will be comprised of five-player teams battling it out on huge maps.
But Anon won’t be doing all of his battling on foot. Of course, the iconic lightcycles show up in Evolution and I got to see a tense chase sequence where Anon raced through vast sections of grid cityscape. The lightcyles aren’t the only vehicles Anon will pilot through Evolution, either. Huge imposing light-tanks will be part of the vehicular combat in the game and they do not mess around. Watching them lurch around the map with turrets that ominously turned towards a target reminded me of the Atari 2600 game Combat.
And that brings up the coolest thing about Evolution, which is the way it’s intentionally referential. Not only do the tanks call back to Combat, but they also are meant to connect to Space Paranoids, the game that Jeff Bridges’ Kevin Flynn created in the original Tron. Developers from Propaganda also said that the light tanks were modeled on the mechanics of similar vehicles work in EA DICE’s Battlefield games and that Anon’s free-running resembles the Prince of Persia parkour for a reason, too. They view Tron as an intellectual property that celebrates video games and have built the game with touchstones to popular modern-day game experiences, just as the original movie did.
So, there’s hope for Tron: Evolution. Disney’s treating it like a missing puzzle piece in the Tron timeline and the required disc combat and lightcycle sequences look great. The fact that it harbors a bit of meta-commentary and offers some teasers about the Tron mythology doesn’t hurt either. Tron: Evolution comes out on December 7th for PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.