Review: New “Tron” Video Game Looks as Cool as the Movie

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Tron: Evolution

Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Propaganda Games
Systems it’s available on: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
ESRB rating: T for Teen
System reviewed on: Xbox 360

If any video game tethered to a feature film faces immense pressure to be a worthwhile experience on it’s own, it’s Tron: Evolution. Not only is a game based on a movie about games, Evolution also serves as a prequel to Tron: Legacy, the biggest, juiciest piece of nerd-bait in decades.

All the action happens in the Game Grid, a virtual reality paradise created by programmer Kevin Flynn years ago. But the Grid’s no longer an orderly code stack. Isomorphic algorithms–self-aware programs–start to change life in the grid. They’re coming into conflict with the Basics (the original programs written by Flynn) to the point where there’s violence and murder between the two factions. Flynn creates Monitors–a program meant to police the grid–and you play as a new kind of Monitor named Anon. (More on Techland: Will The Holiday Season Bring Too Many 3D Movies?)

A rogue ISO named Abraxas tries to break up a fragile truce between Basics and ISOs; Anon stops him but not before he seeds a corruption that spreads through the entre Grid. Meanwhile, Clu–the AI doppelganger of Flynn–gets all rebellious, kill his creator and Bruce Boxleitner’s Tron (yeah, right) and declares war on the ISOs. Olivia Wilde plays Quorra in both the movie and the game and, in Evolution, she helps Anon on his quest to stop Clu and Abraxas.

This interactive iteration of Tron plays like a mash-up of popular gameplay archetypes from the last decade or so. The acrobatic locomotion owes much to the Prince of Persia, the lightcycle sequences betray a bit of Burnout and the fingerprints of the Battlefield series are all over lighttanks. Before you scream ‘feature theft,’ all this is intentional. They see Tron as intellectual property that’s also commented and appropriated video game tropes and the devs at Propaganda give the ones here some cool twists. The mobility features of wall-running and vaulting do more than just get you from place to place; climb or jump over certain spots in the Grid and you’ll restore your health, too.

Legacy accomplishes one of the core tenets of Tron: it looks cool. The Game Grid boasts great art design, seething with the neon-lit futuristic minimalism that burned the Tron look into nerds’ brains for years. The combat moves fluidly and consistently reminds you how important the identity discs were in making a generation fall in love with Tron’s mythology. (More on Techland: New Tron Trailer Shows Off Scary Virtual Jeff Bridges)

But all of that cool-looking, l33t-feeling stuff happens in a place that feels oddly sterile. Yes, the Grid’s a virtual reality space but it’s one that never tells you what’s at risk. It’s woefully underpopulated and the environments run together visually, making it tough to read. This gameworld’s supposed to be Kevin Flynn’s crowning achievement but you’re really just being shuttled through a succession of closed-off areas.

Maybe that’s why the online modes come across as such great, frantic fun. When multiple players spawn on a map, the experience feels like what Tron is supposed to be: a space teeming artificial personas locked in an infinite game that defines them. Whether it’s during addictive acrobatic melee matches or the vehicular combat sequences, the component parts of the game feel most alive when you’re tangling with other people. It helps that all the skills and upgrades you earn in the offline mode carry over. That feature serves as incentive to play through single-player and also fits within the fiction of the mythos.

Tron: Evolution commits itself nobly as a game experience. Granted, it doesn’t make you care terribly much about story but, as a playable artifact in the Tron bloodline, it delivers a long overdue option to fans who want to see Flynn’s Arcade from the inside out.

Official Techland Score: 7.5 out of 10

More on Time.com:

Tron Invades The Marvel Universe In December

Comic-Con: 3 Lessons From the Comi-Tron Party

Top 10 Failed Gaming Consoles

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