The original Tron wasn’t a good movie. The pacing was terrible, the script an amalgam of fantasy clichés and ill-used tech speak, and the story didn’t make a whole lot of sense. On the other hand, the movie did have Jeff Bridges, David Warner, and, most memorably, a distinctive visual style. It’s that style that inspired the film’s devoted cult following and led to a theatrical sequel, Tron: Legacy, premiering nearly three decades after the original hit screens. Theoretically, that style should translate well to video games, seeing as how much of the franchise’s mythology revolves around gaming-friendly concepts like light cycles and shining blue lights. It remains to be seen if the new Tron movie will manage to do its goofily endearing concept justice, but the game prequel it inspired does a quick job of squandering nearly every ounce of potential its source material provided.
Essentially a Prince Of Persia mod with less forgiving controls and slightly more variety, Tron: Evolution looks to bridge some of the gap between the first movie and Legacy, following the adventures of an anonymous security program who gets involved in, well, a lot of complicated nonsense involving Jeff Bridges (who doesn’t provide voice work), Olivia Wilde (who does), and something called “isometric algorithms.” Nonsense or not, the story at least provides a credible backbone, trading on reliable workhorses like betrayal and chosen ones to create a narrative that’s forward moving, if fleeting. Players move through multiple worlds of the computer-verse, all of which are defined by ledges, empty rooms, and different colored lights. (Blue is unsurprisingly dominant, but—spoiler alert—there’s some green as well.) No matter what the stated objective, gameplay boils down to iterations on a scant few core ideas. Either the hero is jumping up walls, (or, more regularly, failing to make those jumps), or else he’s fighting swarms of viral henchmen with varying abilities.
Just when it seems like the tedium will never stop, there’s a racing level to break up the monotony. Light Cycles would seem like an un-ruinable concept, but given the turgid blandness of the rest of the game, it’s not surprising that cycle missions are less about exhilaration and more about touching the controls as little as possible. The tank missions are more fun, because the controls don’t matter as much, and there are lots of targets for shooting. There’s online multiplayer for those who prefer their punishment in groups, and an experience-points system to provide an illusion of character development, but the core game can be completed in under eight hours. Graphics range from adequate in play to horrible in cut-scenes (human faces here appear to be sculpted out of sweaty tofu), and the Daft Punk score is appropriately apocalyptic. Evolution has a few passable moments, but it’s ultimately too dull to be anything more than a missed opportunity.