Tron: Evolution is that rarest and most wonderful movie-based game: one in which the related media serves as an inspiration, instead of an albatross. Nearly 30 years after the release of the film that inspired it, and itself being released nearly two weeks before the film on which it is based, Tron: Legacy, Evolution is designed to both promote the film and to bridge the gap between Legacy and its predecessor.
Tron: Evolution takes place many years after the events depicted in Tron. Flynn, the cowboy computer coder played by Jeff Bridges, has been hard at work developing an enhanced version of "The Grid," the world he created in which computer programs act like people, and into which he was "rezzed" during the 1982 film. In the years since, The Grid has thrived and a new race of programs, called ISOs, has evolved.
At the start of Evolution, we learn that the creation of the ISOs has been the cause of unrest among the other programs, called "Basics." A murder has been committed, and civil war is brewing. Flynn has created you, the System Monitor, to enter The Grid and put things to rights. Along the way, you will meet Quorra, played by Olivia Wilde, Tron, played by Bruce Boxleitner and others. You will encounter familiar sights form the original film, like the towering Recognizers, the lumbering light tanks and the "so-cool-every-kid-wanted-one" light cycles. You will also be dazzled by Daft Punk's powerful soundtrack.
In other words, Tron: Evolution has everything one would expect from a movie-based game - and one thing extra: It's good.
The gameplay is a roughly 50/50 blend of Prince of Persia-like parkour-inspired puzzle platforming and disc-based brawling. Both make up for in execution what they lack in innovation, and thanks be to heaven, they only very rarely happen at the same time.
The platforming is a bit linear, with only one real way to get through each level, that way being helpfully marked by special icons denoting which fancy parkour move to be employed, but the level of precision required is steep. You will fail over and over, but it never feels as if the game is failing you. It's the epitome of rewarding difficulty. While the third person camera here is occasionally flawed, the fluid controls and crisp response more than make up for it. I never once felt trapped by the game. Once you master the moves, you'll feel empowered and emboldened to try new tricks, zipping across the digital world of The Grid with abandon.
The Grid itself is a spectacle to behold. Tron: Evolution is easily one of the prettiest games of the year, simple and yet elegant in its neon-over-black lines and digital hues. What developer Propaganda Games (Turok) were able to do with the Unreal engine is simply astonishing here. The graphigasm cuts short once the main characters take stage, however, as no one seems to have yet solved the problem of making movie stars look like themselves in-engine, but that's what opaque helmets are for.
Evolution's disc combat sections shine through elegant use of combos and disc upgrades to lend a bit of variety to what is, essentially, a one-weapon combat system. As with the platforming, once you master the flow of combat and learn a few combos, you'll find tackling the game's challenges a rewarding and visually stunning task. Enemies de-rez gloriously and although you are a bit more fragile than you may be be used to from playing modern combat games, so, too, are your enemies. Most will go down with one or two well-timed combos, and the block and parry system gives you the breathing room to formulate a strategy in the midst of the fight.