Kids these days, with their Pixar movies and their three dimensions. HD this, 3D glasses that. In my day we were lucky to have Mark Hamill talk to a pile of tin. And we were happy! Now even Tron is rinsing off the dust that's been caked onto its VHS tapes for years. How old are you now, Tron? Just about thirty?
I remember when I first watched Tron, about ten years after it was released, and at the tender age of eight little seemed more exciting than Jeff Bridges surrounded by fluorescent lights. Since then it's become a perennial choice for drunken university youths, a nostalgic favourite of anyone who came of age in the early '80s, and occasionally a satirical target for Family Guy. Its evolution from technologically ambitious film to ironic pleasure follows the natural trajectory of most pre-90s sci-fi, but it always remained an impressive film. Tron was imagined in an era where most computers were kicking about with a single meg of RAM, a time when computers weren't even recognised by the Motion Picture Association as a medium for special effects.
In an attempt to do more than leech directly off the screenplay of the film, as is the case of most tie-ins, Tron: Evolution bridges the gap between the '82 movie and this December's Tron: Legacy. You're cast as Anon, a program created by Kevin Flynn - the character played by Jeff Bridges. Anon is a prototype for a new system monitor program designed to combat a virus infecting the world within the game.
This sets you up for three multiplayer modes - six if you're including the team-based variants of the initial trio. All of them take place on the grid, Tron's electronic battledome that houses its bizarre gladiatorial matches. Everything here is naturally a bit sleeker than the film that inspired it. 82's Tron is a world of ninety degree angles; a literalisation of a grid. Tron: Evolution flows more, in a post-iPod style of sleekness. Walls are curved and the ground can be full of soft hill-like bumps that you'll use to propel yourself into the air.
Disintegration is the game's Deathmatch, and can be played either on-foot or in a Light Cycle arena. Stylistically, physical combat is based upon a combination of free-running and the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira, which simply put means that you can run up walls. In a Light Cycle-less match you'll find that constant movement is the key to success - scurrying up walls to avoid a direct melee hit then tumbling down to a lower level to take out someone else scrambling up the wall below. Your primary weapon is your Light Disk, which appears to instantly target the nearest opponent and can be thrown repeatedly with a bit of button mashing.
Evolution's upgrade scheme features different discs that you can access, including Bomb Discs that explode on impact, Stasis Discs that slow down enemies by a small amount, and Corruption Discs that convert the damage you deal into health. Beyond the Light Cycles, these discs are your primary trusty weapon, meaning combat varies very little between modes.
Bit Runner is the Tron translation of Capture the Flag, and similarly Powermonger is Domination - requiring you to take over nodes on the map and attempt to hold them. But regardless of mode, Evolution's multiplayer focuses on pace as opposed to variation. You'll be jumping over enemies and platforms, using walls as ground, and blindly throwing your disc continuously to take down the health of opposing players. Even when playing in teams the strategy remains more or less the same, with success being not so much about working together as simply pooling your number of kills together.
Light Cycle combat is actually fairly interesting. Bikes are used in Disintegration, both in team and solo, and form the real heart of the game for any Tron fan. The days of instant ninety degree turns are long gone now, and this ride is a hell of a lot smoother - letting you wind in and out, and spiral around enemy cyclists. Neon contrails follow your tail, creating walls that you can tactically trap players inside. If you get into a tight spot yourself you can dismount your cycle, aim a disc at your enemy then get back to riding.
Tron: Evolution is a game developed by Disney, so naturally it forces itself to tend to the needs of as wide a demographic as Disney typically has. It will be interesting to see how this game stands up against the usual spawn of film tie-ins, but as of now it's a simple, sleek-looking visit to a world that many of us get very nostalgic about.
Tron: Evolution is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS and PSP on November 26.