PSP Review – Tron: Evolution

Disney knows what you want. You don’t load up Tron: Evolution for the PSP hoping for a Force Unleashed-style hidden mythology, or the grand hodgepodge of semi-serious fantasy the movies trade in. Tron is a film series about the unbridled thrill of video games, and you want to live out those games. You want to race light-cycles, throw discs, and play Space Paranoids in giant, neon-lit arenas. Disney knows that’s what you want. And they cut straight to the chase in giving it to you. And in that regard, the game is a smashing success.

What little story there is told through an awkward, find-the-yellow-key intro which puts you briefly into the shoes of Tron (Bruce Boxleitner, reprising his role from the films). It’s 1989–according to the game’s promotional materials, not that it matters–and Kevin Flynn (a still photo of Jeff Bridges and a voice-over that doesn’t quite get it right) wants to throw a tournament of the Games–and for Tron to put a new program, Beta, into the system. There. Boom. Done. From there, all you do is select the games, battle other computers, and periodically face off with Tron and CLU for special unlockables, and eventually, playable versions of the film’s stars–minus, of course, Flynn… you know, the star of the film.

If only the games were better. Instead, they’re a mixed bag of arcade-style mini-games pulled from the movies to varying results.

The light-cycle arena battles are the clear standouts, combining simple controls with large, obstacle-filled arenas and a variety of possible strategies to create a surprisingly in-depth experience you can’t help but come back to. If only for the satisfaction of watching your enemies careen into your shield wall at just the right moment. It’s also probably no coincidence that, of all the games, it looks and sounds the best–this is obviously the one the developers spent the most time with. You can also engage in Tron Kart-style races under the same system, which feels fine, if redundant, and sometimes broken (a death at the right moment can actually be the best move possible, thanks to a poorly designed regeneration system which instantly drops you in the same spot and refills your boost bar, meaning you can pull ahead, burn out your boost, die, rinse, and repeat). However, an attempt to recreate the original Tron’s light-cycle battles with the same system–swapping out the fluid motion for the sharp 90-degree angles of the original–comes within a step or two of the same brilliance, but a forced 3/4 camera angle makes awkward to play through, removing the maddening thrills of a first-person perspective, or the elegant simplicity of a top-down view.

Tank battles and a Space Paranoids-inspired rail shooting level are still engaging, but not built for the PSP, so they quickly become hampered with clunky, unresponsive controls and the same awkward forced camera angles that upset the grid battles. Rail shooting in particular becomes disappointing as the game with the largest scope–flying in one of the movie’s massive jets, you take down tanks, light cycles and more across sprawling canyons, busy cities, and more. In theory, this should be the game at its most gripping. And it would be, if the game’s graphics didn’t hamstring it from the start. Taking visual cues from Tron: Legacy, Evolution attempts to recreate the rich, leather-with-light-piping effects of the movie universe. However, failing to translate that dark metallic sheen of so many of the film’s surfaces, the game comes out looking… gray. Just sort of a murky, dull gray. And it suffers for that tremendously, replacing the wonder and terror of the digital world with a sense of intense apathy.

And then there are the disc battles. Well, disc battle is a bit misleading–it’s a generic deathmatch mode, in which the titular discs are reduced to a basic ranged attack to go with your generic kung-fu melee attack. It feels, not bad, but certainly the most tacked-on, and, given the sort of dazzling disc-play in the film, the most disappointing. Attempts to port this combat system into a Parkour-influenced running battle mode work better, but the lack of variety still falls short of engaging.

The original Tron is by no means a GOOD movie. Even diehard fans will tell you that. But what makes it so lasting is how tremendously it fails because of its ambition–to turn a silly plot into a dozen different fantasy archetypes and mythologies with an entire universe filled in and thrown together at random. And perhaps that’s why Tron: Evolution feels so disappointing–it replaces too many ideas with not enough.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ +Great light-cycle combat

-Mediocre tank battles, disc battles, and rail shooting levels

-Lackluster, dirty-looking gray graphics

6 out of 10