Welcome to Lost in Translation? – the Ready Up series where we look at the rocky two-way road of media adapted from video games and games based on films and TV shows, in a bid to decide whether the juice was worth the squeeze, or if what made the source material great in the first place got lost in translation.
Having cast our attention toward the silver screen last time on LIT?, this time we’re heading back toward the smaller screen and taking a look at (deep breath) a game based on a film which is a sequel to a film based largely upon videogames. Ladies and gents, I present to you Tron: Evolution.
Before we proceed, be warned – this blog contains spoilers for Tron: Evolution regarding the game’s plot and especially its ending.
Released into cinemas in December 2010, Tron: Legacy was the sequel to the 1982 ‘classic’ Tron (which, bar its pioneering digital effects, I’ve always thought to be somewhat overrated). It told the story of Kevin Flynn’s son Sam, Sam’s bid to find his father after his mysterious disappearance some twenty years ago and the epic adventure that played out once he entered his father’s creation – the digital world known as ‘the Grid’.
Tron: Evolution was developed by the sadly now defunct Propaganda Games, then best known for 2008’s Turok. Here on Ready Up we were somewhat keen on Tron: Evolution, with our John awarding it a handsome 8 out of 10. Parts of the game looked somewhat like this:
Fittingly released prior to the film it ties-in with, the tale told in Tron: Evolution takes place prior to the events of Tron: Legacy, meaning that this tie-in isn’t strictly an adaptation of the movie. In Tron: Evolution, you step into the binary plimsolls of Anon, a silent protagonist ‘Monitor’ program written by Kevin Flynn, designed to assist the titular Tron in carrying out his duties of keeping the Grid secured before things quickly go awry. A third-person action adventure with plenty of parkour-flavoured platforming, players get to engage in acrobatic Light Disc combat and command such vehicles as the iconic Light Cycle and the Light Tank.
What it got right
First things first, Propaganda utterly nailed the aesthetic of the Tron universe, perfectly capturing the futuristic neon-infused cityscape, the mountainous wilderness that exists outside of it and the characters that inhabit these environments. Boot up the game and you will instantly find yourself transported to the Grid, with everything that makes it distinct intact, present and correct.
Also present and correct is a sequence which sees you take part in the Grid Games, which in the single-player game take up only a small portion of one level and is sadly limited to Light Disc battles, but a suite of multiplayer game modes dedicated to the Games’ representation more than make up for this shortcoming (all of which can be played with computer-controlled bots for those who don’t like online competition). Fans of the franchise get to experience all of the action seen in the film and more, which marks Tron: Evolution out as a great interactive adaptation of its source material.
Two cast members reprise their roles, with Olivia Wilde as Quorra and veteran voice actor Bruce Boxleitner as series regular Tron, lending the game further authenticity, as does the game’s soundtrack which, while never matching the quality of the film’s Daft Punk score (despite the inclusion of two tracks from it), does well to emulate the style heard in Tron: Legacy.
What it got wrong
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – here be spoilers! You have been warned!
Where the game sadly falters is by its status in the Tron canon. Positioned as a prequel to Tron: Legacy, the potential for the story was immense, showing us bad guy Clu’s fall from grace and subsequent betrayal of Kevin Flynn and Tron, events which are somewhat taken for granted in Tron: Legacy and definitely worthy of further exploration. Never really given enough room for character development, Clu is painted as a somewhat one-sided villain, which is a pity given how the story of a benevolent helper turned genocidal dictator should have been more interesting than the straightforward plot delivered here.
The other downside to the game’s prequel status is the need for Tron: Legacy to stand on its own without any outside influence – meaning that literally nothing from Tron: Evolution plays a part in Tron: Legacy. Although characters from the film are interacted with in cutscenes, there is no actual interactivity here – the player never faces off against Clu directly, always instead having to deal with ever-increasing numbers of his henchman and a villain, Abraxas, invented for the game. A large part of the game’s plot involves a virus which is conveniently forgotten by the time the film begins, and ultimately, the events of the game feel inconsequential, with particular emphasis on the conclusion; Clu escapes to fight another day, Anon is heroically killed off, sacrificing himself to save Quorra after an epic battle with another group of tricky henchman, and Quorra wanders off claiming she’ll never forget Anon and his battle to save her and Flynn… though never mentions such events ever again.
But to blame the game for this would be short-sighted. Obviously there’s only so much the developers could do with the section of the franchise they were offered, and their efforts resulted in a game well worth investigating by any fans of the film it ties into.
By no means a classic game, Tron: Evolution is a dependable action-platformer, with a few awkward difficulty spikes sullying a satisfying adventure. Plot-wise the game struggles to remain compelling and essential, but the action on offer is decent and the look of the film is captured perfectly. A solid adaptation.