Invoking the name Tron amongst Generation X provokes inevitable conversation with buzz words like “Master Control Program”, “Light Cycles”, “Recognizers” and, for the dedicated fan, “Bring in the Logic Probe”.
This was the movie that took a fledging generation of kids away from the make believe worlds of light sabers and friendly, candy-eating aliens, positing that the then emerging technology of computers had a world within, fighting a war for self-determination. It was the first movie to use large scale computer animation, giving the audience a vision of video games that would not be fully realized on this level for another 20 years.
Now, there is a sequel, Tron: Legacy set for a holiday release and this time, fittingly, there is a video game to complement the franchise. This new title, Tron: Evolution is set to actually release before the movie it is marketed with, and I got some time at E3 to see the game in action.
Prequel to The Sequel
Like a lot of games based on movies today, Tron: Evolution doesn’t actually let players relive the events of the film interactively. Instead, this game takes place before the events of the upcoming movie, and though it’s not required, Disney PR representatives claim the game will “enhance” the viewing experience and have a lot of nods for fans of the original movie. In essence, the game is much like Final Flight of the Osiris from Animatrix was for the subsequent sequels to The Matrix. It presents a self-contained story with repercussions that carry over into the movie that explain why some of the elements of the plot are arranged as they are.
The game itself is roughly divided into two components. There’s a third-person action component that is channeling the Prince of Persia in an unseemly way. Your character, a Program created by Kevin Flynn (hero whiz-kid of the original Tron) has been appointed by Flynn himself unravel a virus that is beginning to infect the computer world. As you progress through the game, very Princely Persian acrobatics are evident such as wall runs, jumps across gaps and scaling the neon landscape. The virus that is the main antagonist manifests itself as yellow “scum” that occupies small niches of the environment, or, more proactively, as corrupted yellow Programs that are out to kill you.
When combat occurs, it’s what fans of the film expect, with flying discs thrown at enemies in an attempt to “De-Rezz” them. Experience points are accrued for killing enemies and new special abilities can be unlocked as well to increase the arsenal of disc-based attacks. But combat isn’t relegated strictly to deadly Frisbees ricocheting off targets, as with the original film there are vehicular activities as well including the much loved Light Cycle. Light Cycles are heavily modified from their original capabilities in the first movie, now able to turn and curve naturally rather than be relegated to strict, 90 degree changes in direction. Players can now also throw discs at opponents while riding their Light Cycle, so surrounding an enemy in the cycle’s wake trail is no longer the only means of eliminating them.
Most surprising of all is the inclusion of multi-player. As with most multi-player elements in modern games, players can gain experience points to increase the abilities of their character, and in Tron: Evolution this XP accrual is persistent. Whatever experience points you get in multi-player carry over to your single-player game and vice versa, with options to upgrade your Light Cycle as well.
It’s still too early to tell how all of this is going to hang together in a full game, but the visuals are holding up competently, using the Unreal engine. The gameplay so far seems solid, if safe, and Disney is being extremely coy about giving away any hints as to how the story plays out and how it affects the movie. The game is scheduled for a November 1st release.