Movie tie-in games are typically pretty awful and, sadly, Tron Evolution doesn't do much to buck that trend – although it does do a little. Taking place between the original movie and the sequel, Evolution follows the adventures of a program (that's the Tron-universe word for a virtual person) called "Beta" as he is made to compete in games created by Flynn, the prime mover of the Tron universe. The specific purpose for which Beta participates in these games is never made quite clear, as the PSP game has virtually no cutscenes or explanatory interstitials of any kind.
Nevertheless, the games you'll take on as Beta are, for the most part, competently put together. Tron's trademark light-cycle racing is here, and makes up the bulk of what non-hardcore fans are likely to recognize from the Tron IP. The racing itself is rather staid; races are among four cycles, and the game sticks slavishly to the "rubber-band" theory of race design: whoever's ahead gets pulled back toward the pack, while whoever's behind gets pulled up in a constant back and forth, minimizing the degree to which skill matters. Additionally, the entire game world is composed almost exclusively of blue and green energy, which gets tiresome to look at after a few go-rounds.
This complaint is equally true of Evolution's other game modes, including "Recognizer" – a sort of super hi-tech Duck Hunt, and the melee combat sections, which effectively make up a lukewarm gloss on Final Fight. By far the best games are those taken directly from the old-school Atari Tron games, both because these are the most fun in terms of gameplay and because they seem to "fit" the Tron vibe much better than the others. First among these would be the light-cycle Grid mode, which is a fast-paced version of the "snake" game you used to play on your calculator back in trig: avoid enemy tails while trying to make the enemy crash into your tail. Cycle Arena is similar to this mode, but features more wide open levels, smoother controls, and a more arcade-y feel. And then there's the Tanks mode, which feels super duper throwback with blocky graphics and slow-moving units – if you're old enough to remember the old arcade game Battlezone, this one's rather like that: you move your tank around, try to take advantage of cover, and blast enemy tanks with virtual projectiles.
Now, while we say these last few modes are the "best," don't think that means we think they're good. With the exception of the grid game – which you can play for free on just about any smartphone these days – Evolution's suite of titles is mediocre at best. Controls are frequently laggy, enemy AI relies heavily on cheating, and difficulty is, for the most part, frustratingly high and impossible to change. Although Evolution sports multiplayer, it's only via ad hoc mode, meaning you and anyone you want to play against have to all be in the same room with your own PSPs and your own copies of Evolution. Kinda lame.
'Course, it's not all bad – fans of the IP will no doubt appreciate the graphics and general Tron ethos that pervades the game and everything in it. But unless you happen to be one of the "all things Tron!" crowd, you'd be best served to keep your distance here. As with so many other movie tie-in titles, Tron Evolution simply fails to live up to the expectations its big brother brings about.
Jan 27, 2010