Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TRON: Evolution and the Dissenting Opinion

With Christmas having come and gone for another year, it was time to crack into the goodies that Santa left me.  Believe it or not, despite the nature of my work, I actually only got ONE video game for Christmas this year.  That game was TRON: Evolution for the PS3.

Okay folks, here's a little full disclosure for you.  In case you haven't figured this out by now, I'm a bit of a geek. Alright, alright ... I'm a BIG geek.  In fact, it's been said that my "Geek Badge" shines with a brilliance that can be viewed from space.  If there's something I like, I can find myself akin to a kid in a candy store when exposed to it.  And yes ... I love me some TRON.  Of course, like any self-respecting geek, I can be a little over-protective when it comes to the things I love.  So, as excited as I've been waiting for the release of TRON: Legacy, I've been cautious with my optimism.  Having said that, I saw the movie in 3D IMAX and, yes, I loved it.  Sure, it's no Ben-Hur or Citizen Kane, but it was a hell of a lot of fun.  And now, after playing TRON: Evolution for a few days and I've gotta say that the same thing applies to the game.  It may not even be Game of the Year, but it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Right about now, if you've read the bulk of the online reviews for the game, you might be thinking that I've lost my mind ... or that I'm simply an over-enthusiastic fanboy looking at it through a custom set of digitized lenses.  After all, most of the mainstream reviews of the game have been mediocre at best.  In fact, if you read them all together, you'd almost swear that they were all written off the same script.  Complaints about the story, the controls, the acting, etc.  Basically, it's like the game was written off before it was ever released.  That's a shame too, because it's a lot better than it's being given credit for.

In case you HAVEN'T seen anything on TRON: Evolution yet, the game takes place during the period of time between TRON and TRON: Legacy.  You take on the role of a new security monitor program written by Kevin Flynn to help keep the peace inside the Grid between the original BASICs and the newly arrived and mysterious ISOs.  Your arrival couldn't have come at a better time either, as the residents of the Grid suddenly find themselves under attack by Abraxas, a viral program infecting everything he comes in contact with.  The threat Abraxas poses, though, pales in comparison to the larger threat looming just over the horizon.  For those of you that haven't seen the movie yet, I'm not going to spoil anything for you ... but suffice to say the SHIFT hits fan.

Now is a good time to point out my first issue with a lot of the reviews on TRON: Evolution.  In order to get the most out of the story, you should really see TRON: Legacy first.  All those reviewers that complained about the game's plot aren't getting the whole story.  I mean, these reviews started hitting newsstands (and websites) well before the movie's opening weekend.  Sure, I can already hear you saying that it's not fair to expect people to see the movie before playing the game, but TRON has a fairly deep mythology.  And hey, after watching the movie and then playing the game, a LOT of things made a lot more sense in both.  The whole really is better than the sum of its parts.

Next up is the gameplay.  There have been complaints that the controls require too much precision for the game's parkour style.  One magazine even lamented the fact that the game doesn't automatically ease the player where he needs to go.  Maybe it's just me, but I don't always want a game to hold my hand the whole way through.  I'm far from a pro gamer, but I've been playing the game on Hard and so far I haven't had any major issues.  One thing I WILL agree with some of the reviews about is that things can get a little repetitive.  Run, jump, fight ... run, jump, fight ... wash, rinse, repeat.  I don't mind the running and jumping part, but the fights can sometimes feel a little drawn out.  The enemies can take some time to beat, and you're usually outnumbered by four or more in any given encounter.  You basically have to toss your disc or hit a combo a couple of times, then make a mad dash for the nearest health or energy recharge before starting the cycle again.  While it looks cool hopping around and throwing your disc around like some sort of extreme frisbee pro strung out on a 24 pack of Red Bull, but after a while the thrill wears down just a bit.  And who's brilliant idea was it to face off against a frikkin' TANK with nothing more than a glorified pie plate?  Those fight definitely fall into the "one-sided" category.  Even so, as hard as the game feels sometimes, it's never so bad that you don't feel like you're making forward progress.  Sure you might die ... er ... "de-rez" a lot, but the checkpoints are pretty close together and you always learn a little something via trial and error.

As far as the game's visuals are concerned, TRON: Evolution is, at least in my opinion, a pretty solid looking game.  No, it's not brimming with textures and lush environments, but you've got to remember ... this isn't some lush jungle or such.  This is the Grid.  This is the world of TRON ... an electronic wonderland. Admittedly, some of the characters in the cutscenes could've used a little extra polish, but seeing characters like Bruce Boxleitner's Tron is a real blast of nostalgia.  Again, I'll be the first to admit that the game's not the best looking piece of software on the market, but it's still pretty good and does a damn fine job of recreating the look of the movie.

And here's a little something else that seems to have been glossed over by a lot of the reviews ... TRON: Evolution's got a fun little multiplayer component.  I love the fact that I can jump into a multiplayer match from the single-player game (or just play online from the get go).  And if there's not enough players to make the game fun, it fills the available slots with AI bots ... which seems oddly appropriate in the world of TRON. Plus, I love the fact that the XP you earn in single or multiplayer builds simultaneously.  That can occasionally lead to some balance issues in MP, but it's nothing that affects the gameplay too badly.

Overall, if I had to give the game a grade, I'd probably give it a solid B.  It's not the best, but it's good and it's fun.  And in the end, if it's a fun game and you've got your money's worth out of it, isn't that the most important thing?  Well, if you're a TRON fan, you'll definitely get your money's worth out of TRON: Evolution.

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