Parkour.dll

So TRON was a film about the experiences of a man converted into digital data. It was a surreal fever dream that was fantastic and beautiful.

TRON 2.0 expanded the universe as far as it could when a new character found himself digitized the same way. Similarly themed, it gave the player the opportunity to explore a much larger world than was seen in the original film.

Then, TRON: Legacy rebooted the franchise, transforming it into a Flash Gordon knock-off with all sign of digitality stripped away. But it had enough charm, and added enough new quirks to the mythology to make up for it.

This new mythology has a lot of potential, despite the potential it could have had, if they stuck with the mythology established in TRON 2.0.

Regardless, it’s a story, and a moderately interesting one at that. Kevin Flynn creates a world to experiment with… stuff… in an accelerated digital environment. He made a major discovery, digital lifeforms with free will called ISOs. Then it all turned on him when his own creation wiped out his greatest discovery, and held him captive for a thousand cycles/years.

Oh, by the way, spoilers.

It had a lot of potential and it raised a lot of questions. For instance, when Kevin realized Clu didn’t like the ISOs, why didn’t he decide to reprogram his system administrator to ignore the ‘perfection’ goal, so he’d stop acting like the motherfucking Borg!?

As far as I know, that question was never answered. In fact, very few questions were answered when the opportunity presented itself. When the story of Clu’s coup, and subsequent campaign of genocide against the ISOs was told, in the TRON: Legacy tie-in game, TRON: Evolution. And man, does it suck.

You wouldn’t think the TRON franchise would be that hard to get right. But apparently, it is. TRON: Legacy tried to hide the fact that it took place within the computer, which sort of betrays the basic themes of the original film. But it was still a good film. TRON: Evolution continues this denial, and accompanies it with shit gameplay in spades.

To start, the player-character. The first three installments focused on a digitized user, sucked in either against their will, or in the case of Sam Flynn, by their own oblivious command.

TRON: Evolution focuses on a nameless, faceless, silent protagonist. In supplemental material, he’s known as Anon, and he is a new system monitor program created by Kevin Flynn.

That’s right, you play as a program, not as a user.

Really, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this setup. Assuming the program still has some level of characterization, and personality. And an outlook we can empathize with. But as I said, he’s a nameless, faceless, silent protagonist; he gets no characterization.

Some may say the same thing about other silent protagonists, like Gordon Freeman. But Gordon Freeman does have some level of characterization. He’s smart, determined, proactive and tenacious, as we see through his actions, and how other characters react to him. Anon gets none of that. Interactions with other characters are more for their development, not his. And his actions are spurred on, not by some higher ideal or personal goal, but by the commands of others. For the first few seconds of the game, you are explicitly told what to do by Tron. He’s your boss and you do as he says. This is fine, I don’t have a problem with the game opening like this.

Then Clu takes over the Grid, killing Tron (which was covered in the film so it’s not really a spoiler), and for some reason, you’re sent on the run, and are aimlessly wandering around the city, killing guards and avoiding gunfire. Then you meet Quorra who gives you a mission which you blindly follow. Then Radia, then Gibson, then finally, in the final chapter, Flynn gives you your final orders with very little explanation. Which you blindly follow.

The game opening with mindless instruction following is fine. Having it continue throughout the game is not. This is not a character with his own mind, he’s a blank slate who follows directions without question. He’s boring and without charm. The most development we get is through his interactions with Gibson, who begins by tricking Anon into taking his place in the games, where you start killing innocent programs. Then you run through Bostrum Colony together, and finally, for some stupid reason, Gibson sacrifices himself to the virus, saving you.

I know what you’re thinking. How is that characterization for Anon? Well, here are some of Gibson’s lines: “Don’t answer, I see it on your face.” Camera zooms in on Anon’s black helmet, which is covering his face. Oh, ha ha ha ha ha. Also, “Ah, don’t answer. You don’t have a choice.” The first is obviously supposed to be a joke, and the second is a pretty succinct explanation of the entire character. He never has a choice. He never makes choices. He just blindly follows along the designated path.

Some may argue that this is intentional. That we are supposed to project our own personalities onto this character. I’m calling bullshit for two reasons. One, this game exists as part of a larger story, first told in TRON: Legacy. A story that should be pretty rigid in its narrative. Second, you don’t even get to do that, since you don’t get to make choices either. You never get to decide which way to go, or what mission to follow. You can’t run away, or choose your own approach. Even a quicktime event in the middle of a cutscene would have given us choices, we don’t even get that!

Then the game ends with this little chestnut: You and Quorra escape Clu’s flagship, and get caught in a Recognizer crash. You push Quorra out-of-the-way as the damn thing crushes you. You die, Quorra lives and that’s why Anon’s not in TRON: Legacy. All he gets is a single line from Quorra, saying a ‘sympathetic program’ smuggled her out of the city. Fuck! He did a lot more than that! He took down Abraxas, and was the first program to fight Clu! He witnessed the fall of Bostrum and Arjia! Probably the biggest thorn in Clu’s side, during the coup! He sacrificed himself to save the last ISO! And that’s all he gets!? Also, he’s Flynn’s last program! You’d think he’d be more well-known; Probably held up as a hero of the resistance! No! Just some random program who fought Clu! He was just there! Barely a footnote in Grid history! This pisses me off to no end! One would think the hero we are supposed to project onto would be remembered more significantly than that! But no, he’s forgotten, as if he did nothing. Fuck you…

The rest of the cast isn’t much help. Quorra is back, and like the first film, she’s as irritating as ever. She’s more of a pain in the ass, than a protagonist. The final mission is all about saving her, because she was stupid enough to go after Clu head-on, without any weapons, or plan of any kind. Personally, I’d just let her die. Fuck her!

Oh, but she’s a fucking ISO, she could change the world. I don’t care! Actually if she was smart enough to have any sort of impact on the world, she wouldn’t have been so stupid as to run in no-guns a blazin’.

Olivia Wilde joins Bruce Boxleitner in being the only two actors to reprise their roles from the film. And it’s important to note, since both Kevin Flynn and Clu are played by Fred Tatasciore in the game (I guess because Jeff Bridges thought voicing a game was beneath him) and he turned in an excellent performance; I don’t see why they couldn’t have used the opportunity to cast, for instance, Grey DeLisle or Tara Strong in the role, since they actually have talent.

Part of the blame goes to to the writers. Since all almost her dialogue is with Anon, who has no dialogue, so Wilde has nothing to work off of and is literally talking to herself. Even her exposition of the Purge feels empty. Which makes no sense since all her cousins were just wiped out. Then, during the final boss fight, Quorra cheers you on, and I honestly wish she’d shut the fuck up! Especially considering her statement that my fighting proves that ‘we will resist’ feels a bit hollow as I’m getting my ass handed to me.

It gets even worse immediately after the coup. Quorra tells her she, like you, saw Clu kill Tron and Flynn. Now, we saw that happen in TRON: Legacy pretty simply. Tron took on Clu’s guards as Flynn made a break for it. And he pretty clearly escaped. There’s no way she could have messed that up. Yet, somehow, she did, because, as I said, she’s stupid.

In contrast, the most interesting, and competent character, is Gibson, whom I mentioned earlier. He’s a bit light-hearted, and laid back. But when shit hits the cooling fan, he’s ready to go! I kinda see a bit of myself in him. As I also said, he saves the player character by sacrificing his own ass to the virus, and I don’t see why. Does he think Anon’s the best chance of saving the system? I don’t know, he didn’t find Flynn, nor did he manage to hijack a Recognizer. In fact, I would have preferred to play as Gibson. Would have made the game a lot more interesting and a lot more fun. Gibson should have let the virus kill Anon, before deciding to take over his mission. Probably would have done the entire Grid a lot more good. I doubt Gibson would have let Clu get away at the end of the game. Actually, if Gibson was the last ISO, I probably would have liked TRON: Legacy a lot more. I like him a lot more than Quorra. Though admittedly, that’s not a very high bar.

But you know what really pisses me off? As I said, he sacrifices himself to the virus. This results in a boss battle, and Anon doesn’t seem that broken up about having to kill his newest friend. A perfect chance to give him a little bit of characterization, and it’s squandered. Fucking shitbag writers.

In fact, while we’re on writing, the overall narrative feels a bit contrived. We actually learn how Clu’s genocide was accepted by the rest of the programs so easily. Typically, genocide is something the populace frowns upon. But if you can turn the populace against that ethnic group, so much that you get them to agree they need to be wiped out, you might be successful. Clu pulls this off by taking one of the ISOs, and converting a bit of his code in such a way, that he becomes a virus known as Abraxas. How? Fuck, I don’t know.

This is actually a direct rip-off of the Thorne virus from TRON 2.0, only Abraxas looks a lot more stable, and not likely to fall apart.

Thorne Abraxas

But their appearances, and the colour of their infections are almost identical, a yellowish-green, and a greenish-yellow. Their infections spread to both programs, and the environment. There are entire areas dominated by their corruption.

Oh, it’s also referred to as a corruption in both games.

Then there’s the fact that both Abraxas and Thorne are actually secondary antagonists, and were both created by our primary antagonists: Clu, and the fCon cunts.

However, that’s where the similarities end. In TRON: Evolution, the corruption doesn’t really have any major impacts on gameplay. Oh, sure, you fight infected programs, and it creates environmental hazards. But that’s not really virus-like. In TRON 2.0 viral weapons would actually create after-effects. Often your subroutines, the weapon and armor load out as well as any auxiliary enhancements, would become corrupted. This would significantly impair them, and they would need to be cleaned as soon as possible, before they could spread. Which is easy, but slow.

It would have been great if TRON: Evolution tried something like this, but it doesn’t. Not even close. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We still have to deal with the fucking story.

We meet Zuse, just like in the film. Remember when albino David Bowie showed up? He said his name was Castor, and Zuse was his old identity. So, one would presume that when he changed his name, he would also change his appearance in some way. In fact, that would feel appropriate, given Castor’s look. It would make sense if Zuse was a bit scraggly, wearing more casual suits, and his reinvention would include changing both his name, and his appearance; even his voice if he could manage it. Anything he could to make himself unidentifiable as Zuse.

Well, no, in fact, they’re identical.

Zuse in Evolution “Castor” in Legacy

What a fucking moron! How in the hell did he think simply changing his name would have be enough to protect him after siding with the losers in a genocidal war!? In fact, it’s made pretty clear in Legacy that the exact reason he changed his name was for self-protection. I don’t see how that would work.

Then we have the gameplay, which is complete shit.

The first few levels take place in Tron City, where we start with a simple tutorial level, during which we are introduced to the NAVI Bit, which is the most condescending element I’ve ever seen in a game. It is literally a dotted line telling you where to go, and sort of sets the tone for the entire game. You see much of the game is based on parkour. You can run up walls, you can run across walls, you can vault over chest-high walls, and you can jump off walls. For 90% the game, that’s all you do. Which is fine… if the parkour was built to make you feel like you were in command of the environment, and could explore the environment, like parkour elements should. Instead, every time you are supposed to use the parkour elements, the path you are supposed to travel is marked out by special symbols that stand out like a goddamn beacon. Except in one level, Bostrum Colony, where the routes are marked out by glowing bars. It’s hand holding is all it is. It’s a lesson in instruction following.

Then we have combat. You get one weapon, the disk, that’s it. You can modify the disk with various add-ons, but it’s still just a disk. Sharp contrast from the dozen or so weapons available in TRON: 2.0.

The game’s RPG elements are quite tedious. Everytime you level up, you get memory, which you can use to buy new add-ons, upgrades to the special disks, health upgrades, energy upgrades. It’s a very basic, low-rent, RPG system. I much prefer the RPG elements in TRON 2.0, because there, it made sense and it required some strategy. You couldn’t have every subroutine installed at once! What are you, crazy!? No, you had to pick and choose what you really needed. It required a level of strategy. How much do you need that Corrode ability, when using the sniper rifle?

In TRON: Evolution, you can use everything you bought at the drop of a hat. Which is generally fine, but boring. Much like the combat itself.

I used the same strategy in almost every battle. A strategy I dub, Drunken-Maniac Fu. Basically I’d hold the parkour/sprint button, and run around in circles, mashing the fire button. I’d try to hit the enemy as much as I could, without staying in one place, and this generally worked pretty well. Some enemies gave me a hard time, but they all had a weakness to one of the special disks, so I just used that once, while running around like a maniac and hitting them with the regular disk from then on out. Of course if, in battle, you used a parkour move while hitting an enemy, you’d actually administer more damage than normal, for some reason. There’s absolutely no context in which this would make sense. I’m sorry, but no, you cannot pull some shit like this. I guess the game designers wanted to give a bonus to players who made the scene look awesome. But let’s say you decided to take advantage of this feature. You’d run up a wall, jump off, throw the disk, one-hit kill. Then you’d turn around, run up the same wall, jump off, throw the disk, one-hit kill. That’s not cool, that’s boring! Repeating the same move over and over is boring, and adds nothing to the overall experience.

Speaking of adding nothing, the parkour moves are also used in other ways. You have to collect health and energy, not from random pick-ups scattered across the map, no that would make too much sense. Instead, there are objects you have to fling yourself over to collect energy. And no, just standing on the objects won’t help. You have to specifically use a parkour move, to collect the energy. Again, there is absolutely no context in which this would make any sense! And health is collected by wall running across glowing strips. Nothing breaks the gameplay more than having to stop so you can wall run and vault over objects to refill your health and energy meters. It just looks and feels strange, and there’s no reason for it.

But I didn’t even mention my biggest beef with the parkour elements. Ideally, parkour should make you feel like you’re in command of the environment. Like you’re in control and can go where you please. Not in TRON: Evolution. In TRON: Evolution, parkour controls you. I cannot count the number of times I’d be in a fight, and wander too close to a wall. Then, because I was holding the parkour button, I’d trigger a wall run, and my character would run right off the platform, and into oblivion. Wouldn’t it be nice if he stopped wall running once I let go of the parkour button? Yes, it would be nice, but I guess I’m living in a dream world, or I’m playing Prince of Persia, a much better game.

Fuck TRON: Evolution. Fuck every little bit of this game. Why would anyone play it!? The gameplay is boring, the characters are shit. I’d rather stab myself in the thigh, it’d be less painful. But for some stupid reason, I keep playing it. A few times, I went back, and I’m not sure why. But eventually I realized. It does have a certain charm to it.

The racing sections are fun enough, even if the cycle keeps going way too fucking fast, and you crash way too often. There are checkpoints every ten feet in the racing sections, which is way too many. In fact, there should only be one, at the beginning, and the racing sections should be much easier. It would help if you could control your Light Cycle as it’s flying through the air, but I guess that’s crazy talk.

‘Oh!’ I hear you cry. ‘But that would be unrealistic! After all, how can you control your movement if you’re flying through the air, and not in contact with the ground!?’

Well, first of all, planes. Second, the Light Cycle could, theoretically, be built to do just that. I could probably come up with blueprints for such a thing if I really wanted to. Third, IT’S A GAME!!! Mario being able to control his momentum while in the air doesn’t make much sense either, but you can still do it! Finally, TRON: Evolution is supposed to exist in a digital environment. Realism has no place in this game.

But the biggest problem I have with the Light Cycles is this: they are only used for racing. These are Light Cycles, and they’re only used for racing!? This is insanely stupid. These are Light Cycles. A vehicle first seen in the first film, and used as a weapon in Light Cycle battles. TRON 2.0 remembered that. It was a fun gameplay element. And here, it’s just used for racing. A waste, a fucking waste. Why even have the goddamn Light Ribbons if you’re not gonna use them!?

There’s also the tank sections, which are incredibly fun. You can take down every Recognizer you see in one hit. But even that gets boring pretty quickly. When we have Recognizer after Recognizer flying past, it becomes a shooting gallery. And not the good kind of shooting gallery, where you have to aim. The bad kind of shooting gallery, where you can keep the crosshairs on one point, and just wait until another Recognizer flies by. And if you aim for the leg, your timing doesn’t even matter.

Then there’s another problem, the tank controls like… well… like a tank. Slow and lumbering. I’ve seen jumbo jets handle better than this fucking thing. Some may say this is expected and I’ll refer you to my comments on the goddamn Light Cycles. It’s a game, and it’s TRON, it should be much more fun.

But overall, the Light Cycle sections, and the tank sections are the best part of the game. Partially because they are bereft of unskippable cutscenes. Allow me to tell you about the biggest finger a video game has ever given me.

First of all, you cannot control when you save. Instead, the game autosaves at checkpoints. And that’s the only savegames that are stored; autosaves. There was one point in the game where the autosave checkpoint was right before a cut scene. So here’s how the game would play out. I’d run down a hall, then a cutscene would play, Quorra saying some stupid shit. Then I’d have a brief parkour sequence, that I would fuck up. For some reason, I had no idea what to do, and would fall into oblivion. So, of course, I’d reload from the last checkpoint, which was before the fucking cutscene!!! Which would play again, then I’d replay the parkour sequence, and fuck it up again! This happened a few times, and each time I just got more and more pissed, which made be more and more likely to fuck up!

Now, should I blame the game because I messed up? …YES!!! Because my fuck-up is not the problem! The problem is the location of the checkpoint! Placing another checkpoint immediately after the cutscene, or making it skippable, would drastically improve things. But we don’t get that. Instead, we get fucked.

Then there was a bit of a boss battle. It’s the first time you face off against a tank. All you’re told is to use the bomb disk. So you use the bomb disk, and it does nothing. Okay, it does something if you’re close enough. But there’s no explosion, and it doesn’t affect the enemy in any discernible way. Meanwhile, the fight takes place in an arena with two levels. The top level runs all the way around, and contains health and energy parkour toys. It’s also a great safety area… at least, that’s what you’d think right? But there’s something odd about the hit detection in this game. You can be standing on a platform, and the tank would shoot the bottom of the platform, and it would somehow affect you.

Somehow, the force of the explosion generated by the tank would permeate through the platform, throwing you back with a stun-lock effect, without effecting the platform itself. Violating all laws of reason and logic. Sure, this takes place in a digital environment, so violations of the physical laws of the universe can be excused. But I find it perplexing that the one time they do something like this, it’s at the player’s expense, rather than benefit. During this fight there is no place to hide, no defence, and the only way I was able to win was by running straight at the damn thing, and using the bomb disk which would send a half-dozen grenades at the thing. This wouldn’t always work, and sometimes the tank would drive straight at me, resulting in a one-hit kill. But when it did work, it’d work fast and I’d move on to the next section.

However even once I did that, the game still tried to mess me up, as it does often, by doing one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen in a game. Sometimes, when you enter a new area, you’d freeze as the camera pans around the room, to show everything off. Apparently they’re forgetting that I don’t give a fuck.

These sequences are short, but they break the game flow for no apparent reason. You may be running across an area, really enjoying yourself, when suddenly, the game would pause, and the camera would pan across the room, as if to say, ‘Look what we made! Isn’t it amazing!? Love us!’ And I don’t. I just want to punch them in the head.

What’s worse is that they’re completely unskippable. And not like the story-based cutscenes, since after completing the game, you somehow unlock the ability to skip them. Even if you decide to replay the game, the show-off scenes are still unskippable! It does nothing but break gameflow, which is not something I want in a game. And it makes it less fun.

Oh, I could be having fun with this game! Yeah, definitely, despite the shit writing! But the problem is, TRON: Evolution isn’t fun. It’s boring and tedious. It looks impressive, but that’s not why you play a game! If I wanted nothing but impressive visuals, I’d watch a movie. In fact, I’d just rewatch TRON: Legacy!

So fuck you, TRON: Evolution. Fuck you with a rusty spike.

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