Review: 'Tron' video game suffers power shortage
As a young video-game fanatic, I was one of the first on my block to line up for "Tron" when it hit theaters in 1982. So I was one of the first to be dazzled by its then-state-of-the-art computer graphics — and disappointed with its jerry-built story of corporate espionage, a tale with less emotional resonance than a game of "Asteroids."
William Gibson gave us a more convincing vision of cyberspace in his 1984 novel, "Neuromancer." And video games have inspired far better movies, from "The Matrix" and "Run Lola Run" to this year's "Inception" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." But gamers still feel a connection to "Tron," whatever its flaws, because it was the first movie that tried to address our passion.
The long-awaited sequel, "Tron: Legacy," which opens Dec. 17, is just one part of The Walt Disney Co.'s massive multimedia reboot of the franchise. There will be comic books, toys, an animated TV series and even "Tron"-themed computer accessories. And of course, there are video games.
"Tron: Evolution" (Disney, for Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360, Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3, $59.99; PC, $39.99) takes place during the 1990s, halfway between the original film and "Legacy." (The less ambitious versions for Nintendo's Wii, DS and PlayStation Portable are set in the 1980s.) You control Anon, a security program who appears as a humanoid avatar; Anon's job is to prevent a virus called Abraxas from destroying the cyberworld.
The action boils down to three elements. Least satisfying is the combat against Abraxas' minions, who pop up and attack Anon at regular intervals. Your only weapon is a glowing disc, which you can fling from a distance or use in up-close attacks. You earn more powerful discs, like one that explodes, as the game proceeds, but most of the fights devolve into simple button-mashing.
Then there's the parkour-style exploration, which has you running up walls and leaping across chasms as you make your way across Tron's virtual cities. The mechanics are reminiscent of the "Prince of Persia" series, although the environments aren't as distinctive and it's easy to lose your bearings as you travel from one glowing blue skyscraper to the next.
Finally, you get to race the iconic light cycles. The single-player campaign has just a few driving sequences, and they feel a bit undercooked. You barrel down a track, moving left and right to avoid obstacles and other bikers, but you don't get the speed rush you'd hope for.
It's perhaps appropriate that the world of "Tron" — a virtual space presented in a video game — never feels real. The surfaces are too slippery, the vehicles have no traction and the architecture is too arbitrary.
But I've been playing electronic games for more than 30 years, and over those decades developers have found more sophisticated ways to trick my brain into believing that I'm exploring real, 3-D environments. "Tron: Evolution" takes place in a world that I would have thought was really cool back in 1982, but it feels kind of passe today. One-and-a-half stars out of four.