Movie games, you used to be so dependably awful. GoldenEye aside, when it came to wonky storytelling, witless level design and insipid mechanics, you always came through for me. It was perversely comforting really – like being mugged by a duvet. So what happened?
It's a personal theory, but I suspect that Terminator Salvation happened. With a tiny campaign, a horrible suite of weapons and character design sufficiently weak to suggest that key battles in mankind's war against Skynet were prosecuted by Pete Sampras, Grin's wretched tie-in set an intimidatingly high bar for terrible games of the future. The developer did give me some nice socks at a press event once, however.
In the face of the Terminator, then, licensed games have had nowhere to go but up. Sure enough, they've quietly been getting better for a few years now. That Wolverine brawler had a couple of lovely combo moves tucked into it. Toy Story 3 has a brilliant sandbox mode. And now Tron: Evolution bears distinct hallmarks of having been made by people who care about what they're doing.
The singleplayer campaign continues to look decent. Filling in story between the first Tron film and Legacy, the forthcoming sequel, Propaganda Games has built a promising, if familiar, blend of parkour traversal and balletic combat, with some Light Cycle racing thrown in to keep things moving. None of these elements look earth-shattering on their own, but they are mixed together in a brisk and entertaining manner.
The closer you look, the more you see clever ideas emerging. Disc Stations, for example, seem to be an eminently nickable piece of design. Scattered about the solo campaign, these access points give players an excuse to duck out of the story mode momentarily to experience a stripped-back range of multiplayer activities.
In other words, aware that Tron's movie audience might be intimidated by online lobbies and load-outs, Propaganda wants to give more casual gamers the chance to have a go at basic death matches against human opponents, in the hope of tempting them to click through the actual multiplayer menu one day.
Persistent character progression is another nice touch. Any perks or abilities you unlock in multiplayer come straight back with you to the single-player campaign, and vice versa. The generous XP system of both modes intertwines.
While balancing all of this out has presumably been a bit of a headache for the design team, the developers seem pretty confident that you won't be able to break your single-player adventure by over-levelling yourself in online arenas.
A recent chance to play through a few of the game's multiplayer modes provided a welcome opportunity to see whether all this cleverness is being put to good use. Propaganda's unveiled four different game types so far.
Disintegration and Team Disintegration are deathmatch variations. Power Monger is a Domination-style mode that has you capturing and linking together energy nodes to score. Bit Runner is a mean-spirited reworking of Oddball, with the Bit Carrier steadily losing health as they collect points and avoid everybody else.
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