Personally, I blame Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Before Starbreeze's cult-classic FPS game, movie tie-ins were content to dish out a stream of levels which roughly replicated the plot of the film. You knew going in what you were going to get, and that - usually - it wouldn't be much good. Following Butcher Bay, the games industry has decided that this approach isn't really good enough. We don't just want the game of the movie, but the game that expands the universe of the movie. From Avatar to Harry Potter to Toy Story 3, we're getting games that stand apart from the movies that they're based on, and that - shock! Horror! - is sometimes pretty good.
Tron: Evolution is another tie-in in the same vein. Instead of covering the events in the new Tron sequel, Tron: Legacy, it acts as a kind of bridge, linking the world established in the original movie to the world of the new one, and - I'm told - giving you some background detail that will enhance your experience at the cinema. To be frank, the plot is thin and mildly silly, but you can say it does the job of bringing in some old faces, establishing some of the new ones, and putting some additional flesh on a universe that hasn't been as thoroughly explored as, say, that of Star Wars, Indiana Jones or Harry Potter. It's not great, but it works.
And, really, it's not the storyline of the original that those of us old enough to remember it remember, but the weird and spectacular computer-enhanced visuals. The new movie takes that style and runs with it, and you can say the same of the game. It pinches elements from both films and throws in a selection of new ones, all of which work well within the confines of the overall “Tron” visual design. Other action games offer more textural detail and richer scenery, but that's not what Tron is about. It's about all the blue and orange neon, spinning disks, streaks of light and the iconic shapes of the lightcycles, tanks and “Recogniser” vehicles. If seeing this stuff gives you a nostalgic buzz, then Tron: Evolution delivers.
Admittedly, it is a shame that it doesn't manage quite so well with some of the in-game characters. On the TV or movie screen, Olivia Wilde is one of the most ridiculously attractive human beings imaginable. In Tron: Evolution, she's a slightly weird creation whose virtual head doesn't quite match the facial texture slapped upon it. Still, there's compensation. Not only are the vocal performances pretty good, but the game lifts some of the movie's awesome Daft Punk soundtrack - and the original music used elsewhere doesn't sound bad, either.
Most impressively, this isn't the game you might expect. It's not a lame FPS or a lazy Gears of War-style cover-based shooter. Sure, it's got lightcycle and tank-driving sequences, but it's not a by-the-numbers action game. Instead, it's a third-person action adventure in the same vein as a Prince of Persia or Devil May Cry, mixing wall-running, ledge dangling, platform-leaping acrobatics with some nicely-worked close and ranged combat. If you set up a mental checklist of what you'd expect from this sort of game, then Tron: Evolution would tick most of the boxes. Combo-heavy melee combat? Check. Upgradable weapons? Check. An experience system with level upgrades? Check. The same goes for a wide range of enemies with different strengths and weaknesses and the addition of new powers and game mechanics as you make progress.
When it all comes together, it's great fun. The platforming stuff works well, and there's actually a fair bit of skill involved in timing and chaining moves together, which should cheer up those who've moaned about recent games in the same genre. There's also enough depth and strategy within the combat to make it interesting, and the difficulty curve is generally just about right,
However, the game suffers a bit from what the French call “ennui”, or, as the free dictionary puts it, “listlessness and dissatisfaction resulting from a lack of interest”. One of the problems with Tron's visual style is that, after a while, one lot of glowing-neon architecture begins to look a lot like another, and while the developers have tried to get around this by taking you to different locations and spicing things up, there are still long stretches that look and feel very samey. Similarly, the longer the game goes on, the more emphasis there is on just throwing more and more high-powered goons at you and expecting you to fend them off - a problem that has affected Devil May Cry and Prince of Persia in the past. Where the action in, say, Bayonetta or God of War, gives you a gritty satisfaction that you're wiping out superior numbers through sheer skill and gutsy determination, Tron: Evolution keeps you racing around the room, recharging your energy so you can keep using your heavier weapons, and generally hammering the buttons in the hope of pulling off a few combos. It's fun, but not quite fun enough to keep you going over the long haul.
More seriously, the camera is a bit of a nightmare, swinging wildly during fights and some platforming sections, and occasionally making it virtually impossible to see what you're meant to be doing and get it right.
On the plus side, we like the way the game integrates multiplayer. You play one character in both modes, and experience earned in one counts towards weapons and upgrades you can use in the other. Sections of the single-player campaign effectively work as trainers for the multiplayer mode, too, giving you a little more hope when you join the action on the servers for the first time. It's a decent online action game, and a change from the norm, but not the sort of thing that's going to keep you away from Battlefield: Bad Company 2 or Black Ops for any time. Sadly, while you can use a lightcycle on some maps, the full lightcycle duel is not an option.
Tron: Evolution is definitely more than your average movie tie-in, but it's also slightly less than an essential game. The developers have nailed many of the basics, but the camera is flawed and there's not enough interest or excitement in the levels to keep you wanting more. If you find yourself knocked out by the movie and want more of that world, then there's plenty more of it to explore here. After the first few hours, however, you may find it a struggle to keep going.